Struggles with OSAP

They walk around like zombies, struggling to travel from their workplace to their schools. They come home late at night to complete assignments and get little to no sleep – only to continue the whole process again the next day.

On top of all that, post-secondary students in Ontario are overwhelmed with student loan debt.

The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) implemented a new program last year that allows student to receive more grants than loans. OSAP has advertised this program as providing “free tuition” to post-secondary students. However, there is a catch. Only students whose parents have a combined income of $50, 000 or less are eligible for this program. Everyone else, regardless of their situation is not included.

Deb Matthews, the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills said that “the new OSAP will provide over 150, 000 students across the province with free average tuition.”

This program has helped student afford to attend post-secondary schools. But whether its productivity outweighs its consequences is being called into question.

Many students are faced with situations in which their lifestyles do not fit in a criterion of OSAP, but their personal situations are not considered.

Students such as Megan*, who suffers from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and chronic pain, are unable to focus their attention on their studies and excel in school.

Megan worked 11 jobs last summer and is still unsure how she will pay for her expenses during school. Her mother is married to her step-father, which in the eyes of OSAP creates a ‘combined income.’

Although her stepfather makes a sufficient amount of money, he is unable to pay for her schooling: “My stepfather already has two sons that he needs to send off to university. One of them just finished his undergrad but he has to continue paying for him into his master’s degree in Hong Kong.  He can’t support me because he has two more kids after me to put through university because of a court agreement,” she says.

OSAP has agreed to provide more money to Megan if her step-father writes a “step parent refusal letter.” She disclosed an email from the Carleton Financial Aid Office that lists the requirements for a step-parent refusal.

Some of the requirements include, “A letter from the student detailing the situation and their relationship with their step-parent. A letter from the natural parents providing the date of marriage or common law union, a description of any prenuptial arrangements regarding the support of the children, and an explanation of how the natural parent has supported the student since the union. A letter from the step-parent explaining the reason(s) why he or she will not support the student, a copy of the prenuptial agreement/marriage contract…”

Many of these legalities are complicated to retrieve for Megan as she has not been in contact with her biological father for many years. She says her emotional stability has been affected by the long, rigorous process. Her step-father also refuses to disown her and lie for her as their relationship is too precious.

The Financial Aid Office at Carleton also told Megan that her parents are “Expected to help contribute towards your education.”

OSAP representatives have not provided comments on the step-parent refusal process.

The Globe and Mail has reported that “The OSAP system accounted for approximately $1.1-billion of the $6.3-billion of Ontario's postsecondary spending in 2015.”  

These number have only gone up as Deb Matthews explains that OSAP applications have increased by 10 per cent this year due to the new program. Although these statistics are commendable in theory, there are still a number of students who are disadvantaged and excluded from the narrative.

Although OSAP has helped many students get through school and earn degrees, its new program has created some questionable consequences for students who come from unique families and situations. The cut-off rate of $50, 000 is appropriate for families who are struggling to put their kids through school. However, other situations and families, such as a middle-class family with multiple children to put through school, are left behind.

Many students come to university after gaining independence from their parents for the first time but are legally still bound to their families. This has not only caused them to deter from their studies in order to afford a living, but it has also created a complicated situation in which legal documents and processes have become more important than emotional stability and excellence of students.