An ambitious plan to provide free tuition and eradicate provincial student debt for students with annual family income of less than $50,000 was announced by the provincial government on Feb. 25.

The announcement also means that starting in 2017, 50 per cent of students with family income less than $83,000 will be also be eligible for non-repayable grants in excess of average tuition costs with student debt capped at $10,000 annually.

Algonquin College President Cheryl Jensen is optimistic that the program will benefit the college in the long run.

“I think it could very possibly increase enrollment rates,” said Jensen.  “More importantly to that is that we’re always focusing on retention.  And so if the pressure of perhaps not having to work as many hours to go school is taken off so that students can spend more time on their program of study, then I think that will help as well.”

Along with promises of free tuition, the budget committed $20 million over three years for college applied research. This will benefit Algonquin greatly by opening the door for colleges and businesses to work together on research projects that will improve business innovation and create jobs.

“The additional money for applied research is something that we certainly welcome here at Algonquin,” said Jensen. “We’re a very strong college in applied research and so I think that will bode us well.”

Algonquin’s acting Director of Applied Research and Innovation, Kevin Holmes, is also pleased with the announcement and is optimistic about the future of applied research at the college.

“We believe this will contribute to providing more students the opportunity and career development benefits of participating in applied research and allow them to work with great companies and organizations across our community to help build a prosperous and innovation based economy,” said Holmes.

Jensen is also gracious for the budget’s commitment to aboriginal initiatives and the positive impact it could have at the college.

“There seems to be some good money for Aboriginal initiatives which is a focus here at Algonquin as well,” said Jensen.  We have over 900 Aboriginal students that have declared at our college and probably many more that haven’t declared their status.  So anything we can do to, not just assist Aboriginal students, but to build a profile for the importance of Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal education at Algonquin is very important.”

But whether or not these promises are achievable is up for debate as the math used to calculate average tuition costs doesn’t appear to add up. One reason is the exclusion of the 2017 four per cent tuition increase from the calculation.

According to a report by Maclean’s on Feb. 26, the free tuition plan is based on claims that the average university tuition in Ontario costs $6,160 per year and college tuition $2,768 per year. However, the average Ontario college tuition actually ranges from $2,400 to $6,100 depending on the program.  Reza Moridi, the Minister for Training Colleges and Universities said that these calculations are solely based on tuition costs for college diploma programs and exclude programs with higher tuition rates.

Part of the plan for free tuition will be eliminating grants from OSAP. That funding comes from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and is a term many students are familiar with.

About 60 per cent of Algonquin’s students received OSAP in fall 2015 and winter 2016, while over 10,000 applied for bursaries, according to the manager of Financial Aid and Student Awards.

Money from OSAP will now go to the new Ontario Student Grant (OSG) which is expected to begin distributing $1.3 billion in 2017. However, OSAP’s requirement for students to contribute $3,000 that was implemented in 2015 will continue to be enforced.

Although OSAP has been advertised at the college as Ontario funding, it’s not only available to Ontario residents.

“The federal portion of funding from OSAP is available to some Quebec students as well as students from all other provinces,” explained Krisha Stanton, the manager of Financial Aid and Student Awards.  “Since the changes that the Ontario government has announced concerns the provincial portion of OSAP, there would be no changes to the amount of aid that could potentially be provided to a Quebec resident.”

Along with OSAP, the college also offers bursaries.  The variety of bursaries the college provides range based on what you’re studying.

Although it is unclear if students from Quebec will be impacted by these changes, they will still be able to apply for bursaries at the college.

“A bursary is a financial support provided to a student based on proven financial need,” Stanton said. “There are government funded bursaries, donor bursaries and bursaries that are provided through provincially mandated student aid.”

Typically, when considering the applicants for bursaries, the following factors are taken into consideration: you must be enrolled in a full-time program, you must be in need of financial assistance and you must perform well academically.

Most programs also offer their own bursaries and student awards which are awarded to students based on what was listed above.

So current students should not fret about having to wait until 2017 for the OSG program to roll out.  Whether it be OSAP or college bursaries, they will still have options when it comes to financial aid.