Older students not eligible for Ontario tuition rebate
TorStar.com – news/ontario
Published On Sun Jan 15 2012. Louise Brown, Education Reporter
She has $70,000 in student debt, a 14-year-old child, five university courses and two part-time jobs. Yet single mother Melissa Rae Stewart can’t get Ontario’s new tuition rebate.
Why not? Because the 33-year-old waited more than four years after high school to decide to go to university — she had a child when she was 19 so didn’t go back until she was 26 — and she does not qualify for the $1,600 annual rebate launched earlier this month.
That’s the fine print many failed to notice about Queen’s Park’s $430 million rebate plan that gives $1,600 back to university students and $730 back to community college students whose annual family income is below $160,000: it does not apply to students who have been out of high school for more than four years.
The plan was meant, said Premier Dalton McGuinty, specifically to help high school students overcome any immediate financial roadblock to higher learning.
“But I’m baffled — I pay $880 a month in rent, plus hydro, plus the costs of raising my daughter, so why am I less qualified for help than a kid out of high school who has the luxury of living in a house with four other students and paying $250 to $300 in rent?” said Stewart, who is finishing an honours degree in political science and certificate in ethics at the University of Western Ontario.
She is one of thousands of Ontario students whose age will exclude them from the rebate. Cindy Brownlee has been talking to many of them as director of education and equity for George Brown College’s student association. She said dozens of students have been rushing into her office every day for tips on how to apply, but only two or three actually were eligible; the rest were mature students like her. The 26-year-old single mother will graduate this spring with her diploma in early childhood education and autism and behavioral science.
“I waited a few years after high school to go to college because the cost of education put me off so I took time to save some money, but I still have about $31,000 in student debt and that rebate would have helped,” Brownlee said.
The ministry of training, colleges and universities explains on its website that while mature students are excluded, as are part-time students, graduate students and Ontario students enrolled outside the province, mature students often qualify for more student aid than other students.
Still, mature students are doubly hit by the rebate because the province scrapped a $150 textbook grant to be able to afford it, leaving some 100,000 mature students without either, noted Sam Andrey, executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Association.
Because people with children and aboriginals both tend to be older when they enter post-secondary education, both groups appear worse off under the rebate plan.
“You’d think if you’re going to spend $400 million on something new, you’d make sure it benefitted the most needy groups,” said Andrey.
The Canadian Federation of Students’ Ontario office has had more complaints from people excluded from this rebate than they have on any other issue in recent years, said treasurer Nora Loreto. The group will target the rebate plan in its Feb. 1 day of protest about the high cost of tuition.
However Premier Dalton McGuinty told the Star’s Brandie Weikle recently that the government doesn’t “have all the money in the world,” and it drew the line at mature students partly because many have access to help from a re-training program called Second Career.
McGuinty said “the decision we made was to focus on the earlier experience to help kids make that jump from high school to post secondary education.”
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