Provinces keep 'keen eye' on Ontario tuition pledge, but unlikely to follow suit
Students protest Ontario tuition costs at the University of Toronto campus in Toronto on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, February 29, 2016 7:38AM EST
Other provinces are watching Ontario's decision to pay post-secondary tuition for students from lower income families, but a leading expert says he doubts they'll take the same path any time soon.
The Ontario Student Grant, announced last week, would entirely pay for average college or university tuition for students from families with incomes of $50,000 or less. Half of students from families with incomes of less than $83,000 will qualify for non-repayable grants for tuition and no student would receive less than they can currently get.
The new grant combines existing programs, and Ontario's finance minister, Charles Sousa, said he hopes it will come at no additional cost to government.
Representatives from higher-education departments in Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador said their governments are reviewing the new Ontario system, and may consider implementing it if it proves successful.
In a written statement, an official in Alberta premier Rachel Notley's office said, "We will be watching to see what impact Ontario's plan has on accessibility for low income students looking to further their education," though he noted it was too soon to say whether they'd consider modeling their own system after it.
Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador's advanced education minister wrote that his officials are conducting a "thorough review" of Ontario's program.
"If one wants to improve the delivery of programs and services, it helps to keep a close eye on the actions of other provinces and jurisdictions, and we will certainly be viewing this initiative from the Government of Ontario with keen interest," he added.
Glen Jones, the Ontario Research Chair in Post Secondary Education Policy and Measurement, said that if other provinces and territories decide to emulate the grant, it will likely be a while before changes occur.
"They'll wait to see how it works in Ontario," he said, adding, "Other provinces may look at this after it's been implemented and have some sense of its success."
But the grant won't take effect in Ontario for a year and a half, and it'll be even longer until it's possible to judge whether it was successful in boosting post-secondary attendance.
And while the governments in Saskatchewan and British Columbia said they'd be interested in seeing how Ontario's system plays out, they suggested it's not likely they'll follow suit.
Scott Moe, Saskatchewan's advanced education minister, pointed out that post-secondary graduates who stay in Saskatchewan are eligible for a $20,000 rebate on their tuition over the ten years after graduation if they stay in the province to work. He said that makes education in the province "effectively free".
One thing student groups like the Canadian Federation of Students have praised about the Ontario grant is that it is paid up front, which they said removes barriers for low-income families.
Moe said that in Saskatchewan, they prefer to "paint with a broad brush", rather than singling out low-income students for tuition grants, though he noted that there were some student loans targeted at lower income families.
British Columbia's higher education ministry, however, pointed out there are already substantial differences between financial aid in British Columbia and Ontario. A ministry statement said the average undergraduate tuition fees in British Columbia are 39 per cent less than in Ontario. The statement didn't indicate whether the province would be examining Ontario's new system.
"The question of whether other provinces can do this depends on whether they're in the same situation," said Philip Oreopoulos, a professor of economics and public policy. He added that if other provinces are not in a situation where redistributing financial aid that would have gone to students from high-income families, to low-income students, then it wouldn't make sense for them to copy Ontario's model.