By: Aaron L. Pope
Last year’s promise from the provincial government to provide a 30 per cent rebate on tuition for some students is now causing financial fallout in other financial assistance programs at Algonquin.
The Ontario Special Bursary fund set up by the province was meant to help students who were struggling financially, to pay tuition and purchase books in order to have access to a post-secondary education.
That service has now been turned over to the colleges.
According to Duane McNair, Algonquin College’s vice-president of finance and administration, funds will still be available to students who qualify for the special bursary program. However, it is now the responsibility of the school’s administration to find the money from the Tuition Set Aside program (TSA).
“The (Ontario special bursary program) was intended to help three groups of students at Algonquin to access funding,” said McNair. “They were the students in our academic assistance for adults with developmental disabilities program, students in the English as a second language program who are Canadians and students in the academic upgrading program. The students in those three programs who could demonstrate financial need could access these funds to help them pay for tuition and books.”
Even though this bursary has been cut from the provincial budget, the school does not want to turn any students in need away, he said. Eligible students can still apply for assistance through the financial aid office; the process will remain largely the same.
McNair said the province is anticipating fewer students will have to draw on the TSA program because of the 30 per cent tuition rebate that was implemented last January.
The TSA program is a provincially-mandated responsibility that requires all colleges and universities in Ontario to set aside 10 per cent of their tuition fees in order to help students in financial difficulty.
Until this year, the program was restricted to full-time academic programs. There are some worries in the administration that there will be a smaller amount of money to draw upon to help more students that require it.
However, Kathryn Moore, Algonquin College’s Registrar says this will not have a serious impact on services to students.
“The Ontario Special Bursary grant essentially allowed us to help students but outside the TSA,” said Moore. “Because a portion of those programs were not contributing (to the TSA), so they can’t take funds out. What happened was they said we (the provincial government) are going to download the responsibility for Ontario Special Bursary fund to providing that assistance to the students and we are not going to provide that grant anymore.”
“But, at that time the guidelines didn’t allow us to take a portion of tuition (from the affected programs) and put it into the tuition set-aside program, but now they have rewritten the guidelines so that certain programs are now eligible,” said Moore.
Some college programs may be affected, such as the student employment program. Student jobs on campus, such as the international restaurant and tech-support where students have been hired on a part-time basis in the past may see some reductions in hiring.
According to Moore, it is her understanding that the funding for the student employment program will remain at the same levels for the foreseeable future and the college has been making good decisions in the face of the challenges presented to them.
Programs, such as ESL and academic upgrading that didn’t have to contribute to the tuition set aside program are now eligible to contribute in offset financial burdens on the college, according to Moore.
“I think the reason that this will be effective in the end is that they’ve changed the guidelines at the same time that they made the decision to cancel the program,” said Moore. “Had they not changed the guidelines to include these programs, to contribute to the TSA, then that would be a different story. But they did change the guidelines so they are considering these programs that were previously outside of the TSA are now considered as part of the TSA. They had to change both pieces to make this work.”