Students applying for OSAP this spring may be eligible for more funding than usual or even free tuition, after some changes rolled out by the Ontario government.

The changes include free tuition for certain students whose parents are considered low income, as well as more funding for those who have a little more money. Also new is a simplified, four-step application meant to be easier for students to understand.

You can quickly see what you are eligible for by checking out the OSAP aid calculator.

If your parents combined make less than $50,000 per year, average tuition will be covered by non-repayable grants.

“I think it means positive things,” Krisha Stanton, Algonquin’s manager of financial aid and student awards, told the Times. “All students who are currently on OSAP will still get funding… nobody will be disadvantaged.”

Stanton explained that the new OSAP will increase the ratio of grants to loans, covering the cost of average tuition with debt-free money.

The $50,000 mark is the threshold where most students would be able to get that higher ratio of grant money, she said.

Instead of counting their parents’ income, students who have been out of high school for four years and live alone can be eligible for free tuition at the $50,000 income level or below.

As well, the system works on a scale and students can still get free tuition under other conditions, such as whether they have dependents and whether they will go to university or college.

“We’re really trying to make it work for students,” said Deb Matthews, Ontario’s minister of advanced education and skills development, which runs OSAP.

Matthews said in an interview with the Times on April 5 that even students who don’t get the free tuition may be able to get more from OSAP than under the old system. The government estimates that some 230,000 students will be in less debt because of this change.

Another change coming in a second phase next year is a reduction in contributions that parents and spouses are expected to make. In some cases, the contributions will even be eliminated.

Affordable education is a topic that is near and dear to Matthews. She recalled going back to university in her early 40s, where she saw her fellow students struggle with paying for school.

“I had a friend who had two jobs, her family circumstance was that she was on her own,” Matthews said. “I really saw the impact (of having no support).”

Because of what she saw her friend go through, she said that helped guide her in making OSAP better for students.

Applying for OSAP once required the applicant to fill out many pages and was quite complex. The process has been whittled down substantially to only four steps.

Stanton said the reduced application will also lighten the load on her office, as they won’t have to field as many questions from confused students and more time will be left to process the applications.

OSAP applications opened on March 29. Matthews said there has already been a marked increase, with 2.5 times more students applying this year compared to the same one-week period last year.

“I just encourage people to check out that calculator,” Matthews said. “People are really surprised at how much aid is available.”