Doug Fords Classroom Part 2 On campus a tough new landscape

Sarnia students Maddy Boucher, left, and Niamh Ellwood are preparing to enter post-secondary school one way or another despite sweeping changes to Ontario’s student loan system. Both say the thought of debt after school is a constant anxiety but one with which they’re learning to live, a common theme among post-secondary-bound students in the province. (Louis Pin/The Observer) Growing up with four siblings in a single-parent home, Cindy Tran said there was plenty of affection to go around.Money to go on to university? Not so much. Finances were tight in the Ottawa household.Hard work – she finished in the top 10 per cent of her high school class — helped Tran get to campus. Student loans, bursaries, scholarships and money saved for her, helped to ease the financial hit.With three years of an honours English degree under her belt, and returning to Western University this fall to finish, Tran isn’t sweating the money. The biggest hurdles are behind her.Instead, it’s her siblings she’s worried about.Doug Ford has priced their shot at post-secondary school beyond easy reach, if not out of reach.“I am not completely worried about tuition next year because I know there are scholarships and bursaries I can apply for,” Tran said. “But I have three younger siblings going to university – the debt on them will be significantly more.”For a generation of young people who watched Ontario’s education system expand under the former Liberal government at both ends, with the addition of full-day kindergarten and free post-secondary tuition for more than a third of all full-time students, Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is drastically changing the landscape.College and university students will get a 10 per cent tuition cut, but gone is the Liberal program begun in 2017 that helped more than 200,000 students, especially from low-income families, absorb the cost of higher education by covering their tuition through expanded grants from the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).The Tories, elected in 2018 and battling a huge budget shortfall, said the cost had become “unsustainable.” Merrilee Fullerton, the Tory minister in charge at the time, accused the Liberals of “handing out OSAP money to some of Ontario’s highest income earners with virtually no meaningful criteria for success.”The Tory changes on campus don’t end there.Ontario’s 45 colleges and universities will also get less money from Queen’s Park, about $400 million less over four years. That’s a fractional cut, about one per cent a year. But new and different is that far more of what the schools get will depend on 10 performance measurements, including their graduation rates and how quickly their grads find jobs.In that, critics see an emphasis on turning out workers, not minds.Southwestern Ontario, as a region, stacks up well against other areas of the province on graduation and employment rates, but that does nothing for students just fighting to pull together the money to get to school in the first place.*** Maddy Boucher dreams of becoming an environmental lawyer.Ford’s reforms won’t derail her goal, but neither will they do anything to help grease her way.The Sarnia student is headed to the University of Guelph to begin first-year studies in biology, the start of a long and costly journey she hopes will eventually lead to law school. That was the plan when Boucher applied for university last January. It’s still her goal. But even as she applied, the Tories announced the end of the free tuition program and an overhaul of OSAP, the province’s system of non-repayable student grants and repayable loans.From $175,000 under the Liberals, the new family income threshold to qualify for some assistance under the Tories has fallen to $140,000. Low-income students will still qualify, but some of that will be loans and most of the reined-in grants will go to those whose families make less than $50,000 a year.The Tories are also doing away with a six-month grace period after graduation, in which the interest clock on student loans was frozen, and making it tougher for older students to qualify for OSAP on their own, often low, income levels.Under the Liberals, students weren’t considered independent of their families until four years after high school. The Tories have tacked an extra two years onto that, making students more dependent on their parents for financial help.Boucher was accepted for OSAP loans, but figures she will work during school to help avoid a debt trap.“If you want to go to school, you’re going to be stuck owing someone for the rest of your life,” she said. “I just don’t want to go into debt.”Her friend, Niamh Ellwood of Sarnia, who’s going into Grade 12, would have qualified under the Liberal program for free tuition when she goes to school next year. Now, she says, her future as an aspiring law student under the Tories looks a lot more cloudy, especially because she hopes to study in Toronto where living costs are Ontario’s highest.Both teenagers figure their undergraduate degrees will cost $70,000 or more, between school and living costs. Neither wants to rack up debt, but not going to school isn’t an option, they say.In Sarnia, Ellwood said, she’s been told “the only way to make money” is working in the Chemical Valley, the hub of petro-chemical industries in the area. Not for her, she said.“Working until your back breaks. My dad was a hard worker. He was a diesel mechanic and a farmer. He died at 41.”Tran worries that the PC government’s changes will alter not just the landscape on campus, but future prospects for many young people.ONLINE EXTRA Reporter Louis Pin analyzes the potential on-campus winners and losers. CLICK HERE TO READ IT“It’s very difficult to change your financial situation,” she said. “It (affects) future generations, especially those that don’t come from a lot of money. They can work minimum-wage (jobs) in high school, but that’s not going to be enough to afford the cost of university tuition.”*** Former premier Kathleen Wynne lost her government to Ford last year. Now, the Toronto MPP and Liberal education critic is watching the centrepiece of her administration, the free tuition program, crumble under Tory rule.“Young people from affluent families are four times more likely to go into post-secondary institutions than kids from less-advantaged families,” she said. “What we saw when we put free tuition in place is single moms, Indigenous young people and kids living in poverty, were more likely to go (to school).“It was working. It was doing exactly what we hoped it would do.”The Liberals said the program was opening doors to higher education to more young people and sparing them debt.But Ontario’s financial watchdog painted a different picture in her 2018 report, finding those receiving grants grew by 25 per cent in the program’s first year, but with only a fractional enrolment increase. Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk also reported most of the OSAP money, 98 per cent, was given out in grants that year, compared to 60 per cent the year before, and that the overall cost was on track to jump by more than 50 per cent by 2020-21 to more than $2 billion.The take-away for Liberal critics was that students already in school, paying their own way or using loans, soaked up the free money simply because they could — they qualified.*** Students themselves are deciding the fallout of another Ford government change on campus this year — the scrapping of mandatory student fees, which pay for things like campus clubs, student media outlets and even student daycare services —  that added hundreds of dollars or more to student bills.Instead, students are voting on what services they voluntarily want to fund as they register for school. At Western University, the student newspaper The Gazette — it cost students less than $20 each last year — faces an uncertain future. If it survives, its fate will go up for review with each back-to-school cycle.“This is like a direct referendum every single year” editor-in-chief Martin Allen has said.WHAT OTHERS SAID:“There still are a lot of grants. Low-income students, it’s no longer zero (tuition) grants, but there still are . . . loans. They are still looking out for low- and middle-income families.” — Samantha Iaccino, going into business administration at Lambton College in Sarnia“(Student) perception of debt is a much greater factor for their decision (whether) to access post-secondary education. It’s really important they don’t have that fear of debt acquisition” when deciding. — Cat Dunne, vice-president of Western University’s student council.“All of our universities and colleges . . . will get to determine the weight of each metric. . . . If they have a rough year one year, they’ll be able to make it up and respond accordingly.” — Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano, on new performance measures that will help to determine how much provincial money colleges and universities get.“When I went for OSAP (the free tuition) helped me quite a bit, especially because I’m a single mom with a single income.” — Kaylene Darby, returning to Lambton to become a personal service worker.READ IT HERE: Doug Ford’s Classroom, Part 1: Digital jolt looms large amid big changes