Higher Education Strategy Associates

You Couldn’t Make It Up

This email is G-rated, so I can’t use the full range of sexual/scatological imagery needed to describe my true feelings about the Ontario government’s Tuition Rebate announcement last week. I’ll keep it to: I told you so.

To recap, the Ontario Liberals made a not-particularly sensible election promise to give a 30% rebate tuition to full-time dependent students. But at least it involved giving some new money to low-income students, even if it came at the cost of providing a lot of money to families who clearly didn’t need it. And at least their proposal wasn’t as dumb as the CFS critique of it, which demanded (with the usual self-righteousness) that the government give less money to low-income students so that students from families making over $160,000/year not be excluded.

(Seriously: CFS’s definition of “progressive” policies includes ones with redistributive outcomes like the Bush tax cuts. Obviously, student views need to be heard, but let’s not pretend the CFS’s possess intellectual coherence).

Anyways, the Liberals got post-election religion on the deficit and someone, somewhere – the Premier’s office, maybe? – subsequently decided that the new grant had to be revenue-neutral. That meant the rebate went from being a good-news new money story to a money-shuffling what-the-hell? story.

The source of the $400 million needed to fund the rebates is still unclear. We know that some will come from the elimination of the Textbook Grant – hilarity alert: this was the Liberals’ signature PSE promise in the 2007 election – the Queen Elizabeth II Scholarship and the Ontario Student Trust Fund. We also know that some will come from displacement; students with relatively high need who get the new grant up front will get less OSOG at the end of the day (something the Liberals who spun this three months ago swore blind was never going to happen).

Now, those two sources don’t add up to nearly $400 million, so there’s some more cuts coming that we don’t know about. But based on what we do know:

– Students from high-income families who get this grant will be $800-$1,600 richer. Students from low-income families who are needy enough to receive OSOG will be no better off because of displacement.
– The Textbook Grant and the QEII were more narrowly targeted on income than the rebate – killing one to fund the other means, on aggregate, shifting money from poorer families to better-off ones.

Bottom line: cannibalizing existing programs to fund the Tuition Rebate means more money for upper-income families and less money for low-income ones. Oddly, the CFS is still unhappy, despite this being exactly what they asked for. Not just bad policy, then: bad policy presented so poorly your main critics don’t realize they got their wish.

Honestly, you couldn’t make it up.

This entry was posted in Canada, Funding and Finances, Politics, Student Aid, Tuition and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to You Couldn’t Make It Up

  1. James says:

    Sounds like somebody is having a little tantrum for being ignored by the Liberals. Wasn’t there a time when you were writing their policy through Rae?

  2. This hits home for me. As a mature student in receipt of the Ontario Access Grant, I do not qualify for the new aid due to the restrictions in place. Given that this aid is essentially recycled from, among other funding, the Textbook and Technology Grant, I am left at a net loss of aid received from the province. This is not good policy, as it essentially excludes more students in need. Not a smart use of limited funds.

    • Alex Usher says:

      Hi Chris. Thanks for writing. Obv. I agree that this is not a smart use of limited funds, but to be fair, I’m not sure it will actually exclude *more* students in need – it kind of depends on how many people actually apply for the new grant, I think, but I can see a way where this ends with more people receiving some kind of assistance from OSAP, even if it isn’t as much as before.

      Let’s just say that the winners and losers from this aren’t especially straightforward. Someone who got one of these grants but used to be a QEII recipient would likely be worse off; someone who got the new grant but was previously ineligible for aid b/c their parents made 150K/year would be better off, older students (like yourself) who used to receive the textbook grant will be worse off, etc, etc.

      • Not as much before is still a net loss, which is what bothers me. It’s the sort of discouragement someone in my situation really could do without. Working towards my academic goals was challenging enough before. I’m sure there are other students in my situation who were already on the borderline between success and failure where aid is concerned.

  3. Grayson from bc says:


    I agree this policy is poor at best but i know for a fact that the way your are quoting the CFS is also a little off. The CFS-Ontario component actually was calling for a tuition fee reduction for all students and was told that this would happen by the liberals. The liberals were then elected and stated that instead of a reduction in tuition fees in ontario ( ontario pays the highest tuition in the country) the liberals decided they would instead institute this washed out grant. If you are going to bash the CFS you should at least get your information correct. I dont mean to attack you in any way im just stating stating what actually happened.

    • Alex Usher says:

      Hi Grayson. Thanks for reading our stuff.

      It’s true the Liberals were vague about eligibility for the grant and didn’t make the distinction between dependent and independent students until after the election; however, it was clear from the wording of the platform (you can look at it here: http://www.ontarioliberal.ca/OurPlan/pdf/platform_english.pdf) that it was a grant not a fee reduction, that the grant was for undergraduates only, and that there would be an income cut-off. Nobody was misled about any of those things.

      CFS’ opposition to this grant is not primarily due to feelings of being misled – its because they genuinely believe that any aid which distinguishes between students based on income is inferior to universal aid. Which is another way of saying the poor shouldn’t get more aid than the rich. Which makes them more Tea Party than “progressive”.

  4. Marc says:

    My only real comment would be that, and this from the platform:
    “That means – every year – the families of five out of six students will
    save $1600 per student in university and $730 per student in college.”
    Turned into something more or less like: less than 1 in every 3 student will be eligible, let alone actually receive.
    And you suggest CFS outrage is “intellectually incoherent”. And given that this is an opinion piece, I believe you are making it up.

    • Alex Usher says:

      Hi Marc. Thanks for reading our stuff.

      First, this “1 out of 3 students” talking point requires some extremely elastic definitions of the word “student” to be true. In particular, you have to include over 200,000 college enrolees who are on short-term contract training and whose fees are entirely covered by their employers (I hope you’d agree that these people are not in need of grants) and another 150,000 or so who on average are taking less than one course per year. Take them out, and the graduate students who were never included in the first place (in your quote, you missed the previous line in the Liberal announcement which made it clear that the 5/6 only referred to undergraduates), and you get a number which is a heck of a lot closer to the Liberal figure than to CFS’.

      Second, let’s be clear: I think students have a right to be upset about the way this program was communicated to them, and the fact that there are a number of undergraduate students who appeared to be included in the initial announcement who at the end of the day were not included . What lacks coherence is CFS’ determination to simultaneously present itself as “progressive” and to continually defend the richest in society. If you go back to the day of the announcement, it was completely clear that they opposed it *solely* on the grounds that it did not include students from families earning over $160,000. the fact that the Liberals screwed up their communications/changed their mind about who was eligible had nothing to do with it because it hadn’t happened yet.

      There are lots of people in higher ed who think that net tuition (i.e. tuition minus grants) for low-income students should be lower in order to encourage participation. What distinguishes CFS from the rest of us is that they think it’s illegitimate to give tuition breaks to low-income students unless the rich get some, too.

  5. Pingback: Fibs, Nose-stretchers and Trolls | HESA

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