A new OSAP system is coming this September. Here’s how it will work:

When Carleton’s 2017 fall semester starts in September, students will see the potential benefits of an overhauled Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) system. The upcoming school year will see the introduction of a new Ontario Student Grant (OSG), a program the provincial Liberal government hopes will make post-secondary education more affordable.

On March 29, the government announced that it would start accepting applications for the new OSAP program.

But how will students actually be affected? 

Free tuition? Not quite yet

The most talked about change aims to make post-secondary education more affordable for low-income students. Universities are worried about declining enrolment and hope that lower fees will encourage students to consider post-secondary education.

Under the grant, students whose annual family income is under $50,000 will have average tuition covered by the government.

Families with incomes up to $170,000 will also receive tuition reimbursements of varying sizes.

The government estimates that 210,000 students will have their tuition covered next year. It’s not free tuition for all, but it’s a step in that direction.

Tuition fees will probably keep going up

The OSG doesn’t actually make tuition any cheaper. Schools will continue to charge students just like they do today, but the grant will return some—or all—of the money, depending on the student’s income.

Earlier this year, the provincial Liberals kept a framework in place that allows Ontario universities to increase tuition by up to three per cent per year.

Student groups—including the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)—aren’t thrilled by this, since a three per cent annual increase on tuition is greater than inflation, meaning tuition will likely become more expensive each year.

The framework will remain in place for an additional two years, starting in September.

Who is paying for the grant?

The grant will be paid for by funds saved up by streamlining the OSAP system. The provincial government has said that by eliminating some seldom-used functions of OSAP, they will be able to find the money to pay for the program.

Critics have said that this isn’t a foolproof system, as tuition hikes and increased enrolment could see costs rise.

For example, the government expects 230,000 students to have all their tuition covered in two years’ time, 20,000 more than next year.

If that does happen, the government said it will continue to offer the grant to students. The difference in cost will then have to come out of the provincial coffers.

Is the OSG the same for every program?

Students who qualify for the grant will not receive the exact amount they pay in tuition costs. Rather, each student will receive the average tuition costs paid in Ontario. By using a fixed average tuition number, the government said it hopes to save the money that would have to be spent tailoring the grant for each student.

This means students from expensive programs might have to pay more than they get back from the grant, while those enrolled in cheaper programs may receive even more than they paid.

Some critics said they worry this will incentivize students to sign up for liberal arts degrees rather than business or engineering, which tend to be more expensive, but also could have better job prospects.