NEWS & OPINION: The Ten Percent Tuition Reduction

tuition cut
A screen-shot of the provincial government's YouTube channel, as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton announces the ten percent tuition cut.


Contributed by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

For the first time in Ontario, students at every publicly-assisted college and university will see their tuition rates go down by ten percent, thanks to a province-wide tuition rate reduction introduced by Ontario's (Conservative) “Government for the People”.

The tuition rate reduction is the latest step in the (Premier Doug) Ford government's plan to keep more money in the pockets of Ontario students and families.

"We believe that if you've got the grades, you deserve access to an affordable postsecondary education," said Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. "By lowering tuition across the entire province, our government is ensuring that all qualified Ontario students will have more affordable access to high quality skills, training and education."

As part of its overall reform of postsecondary education affordability, Fullerton also announced that the government will be refocussing the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to ensure it remains sustainable and viable for future students, while directing a greater proportion of OSAP funding to families with the greatest financial need.

"The previous government believed in handing out OSAP money to some of Ontario's highest income-earners with virtually no meaningful criteria for success," said Fullerton. "It is no surprise that student enrolment has remained flat while tuition rates skyrocketed. Instead of using OSAP to indirectly subsidize future rounds of tuition hikes, we will focus our resources on the families in greatest need while challenging our partners in the postsecondary sector to deliver better value for the high tuitions they already charge."

The Minister also announced a Student Choice Initiative through which every individual student in Ontario will be empowered to choose which student fees they want to pay and how that money will be allocated. Fees for essential campus health and safety initiatives will continue to be mandatory.

"Student fees in Ontario can range as high as $2,000 per year and, too often, force students to pay for services they do not use and organizations they do not support," said Fullerton. "We will ensure students have transparency and freedom of choice regarding the campus services and organizations which get access to their money."

Reducing tuition and increasing the affordability of college and university is part of the government's plan to help people get the training they need to get good paying jobs.

"By making postsecondary education more affordable through historic reforms, refocussing supports to the families who need it most, and empowering students to choose how their fees are spent, we are restoring accountability, affordability and access to postsecondary education while giving more of our students opportunities to find a job and build a career right here in Ontario," Fullerton concluded.

• The government’s historic tuition reduction for 2019-20 represents the first time Ontario student tuition has decreased across all funding-eligible programs.

• Average university tuition in Ontario has increased significantly since the mid-1990s and is currently the highest in any Canadian province.

• The Auditor General recently tabled a report highlighting concerns with the way OSAP was administered as well as drastic overspending. The report concluded that despite the previous government’s excessive spending, OSAP did not result in proportionately higher enrolment.

• The government will administer a fund to help smaller, Northern institutions adjust to the tuition rate reduction.


Yes, as rumoured, the provincial Conservative government is going to cut postsecondary tuitions by ten percent this fall (for the 2019-20 academic year), and freeze the rates for at least a year after that. Hooray!

But … Boo! … It is “de-Liberalizing” the perhaps overly generous Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) by returning it to its 2016-17-era eligibility guidelines and repayment formula. That, among other things, will eliminate the previous Liberal government's policy of free tuition for low-income-earning students, and the six-months-after-graduation "grace period" for the commencement of student loan repayments.

And (Boo!), the government is not providing any supplemental or transitional grant funding to assist schools with the revenue reduction cause by the tuition cut (except for small-enrolment schools in Northern Ontario). So, many of them may have to cut services and/or staff to cope with the cash shortfall.

The rumoured policy initiative was confirmed on January 17 when Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton made an announcement at Queen’s Park, also televised on the government’s YouTube channel.

This fall, the ten percent tuition reduction will save students in most college programs approximately $340-$370 per year, and the “average” university student about $660.

International students’ tuitions are not covered by the cut, and will continued to be non-regulated (schools can set them at “whatever level the market will bear”).

The tuition reduction is expected to mean revenue losses for the 24 public colleges of $80 to $100 million in 2019-20, and $360 million for the 21 universities.

For St. Clair, the tuition reduction means the loss of approximately $2.87 million, based on the 7,600 domestic students who paid $28.7 million in tuition during the current (2018-19) academic year.

Theoretically, of course, that cash shortfall could be covered if domestic enrolment increased by ten percent in 2019-20 – if approximately 760 more domestic students were attracted to the school by next fall.

But theory isn’t reality. While the college has experienced unprecedented and exponentially explosive enrolment growth among international students during the past half-decade, domestic enrolment has remained stagnant at the 7,000-7,500 level. Simply put, Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent just don’t have an expanding population of young people in their late-teens/early-20s that are clamoring to enrol in postsecondary education.

Another “replace-the-lost-revenue” option: Hike international tuition to cover the domestic loss. This year, approximately 4,700 international students paid roughly $13,000 apiece, to generate $62 million in revenue. With the same number of students (give or take), generating an additional $2.87 million in revenue would require an international tuition increase of about five percent. Would the market bear that?

“On the bright side”, thanks (in large part) to the recent influx of high-tuition-paying international students, the college’s administration is projecting that it will conclude the 2018-19 fiscal year (at the end of March) with a budgetary surplus of approximately $10.5 million. So, the immediate impact of the tuition reduction may be cushioned by that “cash in the piggy bank”.


(a) the administration had hoped those monies could be used on other projects, and/or to replenish reserves; and

(b) it is still fretful about relying, long-term, on international enrolment as a major – the major – revenue source of the college. The slightest “blip” in the world’s economy, global politics or immigration policies could lead to such enrolment disappearing overnight.

While St. Clair might, for the next year or two, be able to absorb the loss of the domestic revenue, other small- and medium-sized colleges throughout Ontario may not be so fortunate. Some of them haven’t experienced the financial boon associated with international enrolment, and have been “skating on thin financial ice” – including some budgetary deficits – for the past decade. The tuition reduction, for those schools, could sound their fiscal death-knell.

That’s the situation for the administrations of the 24 colleges …

… Back to what this government initiative means for students …

… At best, the whole scenario appears to add up to a “zero-sum game” – of one financial change (the tuition reduction) entirely offset by another (more restricted student aid), so nothing really has either improved or become worse. Different mathematical calculations, same bottom line.

At worst, however, this is a deceptive “shell game” in which students think they have won something, but, in reality, they’ve been disadvantaged and damaged.

Here’s an analogy:

Think of postsecondary education as a poker game.

Woo-hoo! Under the new provincial policy, the initial payment to get into the game – the ante into the “pot” – has been reduced considerably, so your first dealing of the cards is more affordable for you.

But your ability to stay in the game for more than a few subsequent dealings is now more limited. The friend who was bankrolling your participation by giving you some spare cash isn’t being quite so generous. His “don’t worry about paying me back” gifts have dried up, and he’s even getting stingy with his loans.

Nevertheless, you keep taking those loans to play as many hands as you can.

At the end of the game, you’ve won a pot or two (received your diploma) … and you pay your friend back some of what you borrowed … but he also demands that you sign an IOU for the remainder, with interest. You’re in debt – student debt, poker debt, same thing.

Oh, and one other thing … While you were playing the game, the atmosphere sucked. The venue for the game had uncomfortable chairs, stale potato chips and past-expiry-date dip, and lousy service by only one waiter who was serving a dozen tables of players. That’s because the poker club (that’s the college) had to cut its costs because it had been relying upon revenue from the ante-pot fund to provide its amenities.

Student organizations and student government leaders, therefore, have joined college administrators in wondering why the Conservatives revamped the situation at all. It may turn out to be a “lose/lose” scenario for everyone – excluding the government itself.

The combination of reduced tuition with restricted student aid may not, in the long-term, make postsecondary education more affordable or accessible for anyone. And the impact of the revenue withdrawal from the schools will almost certainly have a negative effect upon the quality of the services and staffing they provide … and that within a system that is already one of the most cheaply government-funded of any province in Canada.

Some more radical student organizations have, for decades been calling for free (no-tuition) admission to postsecondary education throughout Canada. But more realistic advocates have, instead, suggested a freeze, coupled with the implementation of a policy whereby tuition rates would fluctuate with the rate-of-inflation. Maybe that will, eventually, be put into place. But there was no indication of tuition-setting plans in Fullerton’s announcement, beyond the 2019-20 reduction and the 2020-21 freeze.

Fullerton called upon all schools’ administrations to be “innovative and adaptive” when dealing with the revenue reduction, so as not to drastically curtail services or academic quality.

The most surprising element of the Minister’s announcement – which hadn’t leaked out a few days before when the tuition reduction was prematurely revealed – was the proposed “opt-out” process associated with the payment of various ancillary (tacked-on-to-tuition) fees.

On top of their tuition, for instance, St. Clair students currently pay these compulsory fees:

- an activity fee that supports student governments, the athletic association and Alumni Association;

– a health insurance premium (students can already opt-out of that and receive a refund, if they are covered by an alternative plan);

- a recreation/fitness centre fee;

- a fee for the production of their student card;

- a fee for the operation of their student centres;

- the technology access fee (to maintain the open computer labs, provide wide-ranging WiFi, and provide free printing);

- a transcript fee (for the life-long processing of paperwork associated with grades from the Registrar’s Office);

- a graduation fee (for amenities associated with their Convocation ceremonies); and

- an “enhanced student fee”, to provide 24-hour access to on-line and by-phone mental health counselling services.

Given that the Colleges Act recognizes the need for student governments at all schools, it is doubtful that anyone could make a case for opting out of the general activity fee.

The Fitness Centre and Student Centre fees probably can’t be tinkered with either – because, in addition to providing the day-to-day operational funding of those buildings, they also generate money for the repayment of mortgages tied to their original construction.

Student ID cards are mandatory for access to a host of regularly used campus services – and even some academic purposes ­– so that fee probably couldn’t be opted-out of either.

The technology access fee, likewise, is tied to both architecture and equipment used by almost every student – and, already, increases to that fee must be approved by the student governments (the administration can’t just hike the fee by itself).

Fullerton emphasized that any fees providing mental health services would automatically be deemed “essential”.

About the only fees that might be the subject of opt-out ability are the transcript fee (but if you ever, in the future, required a grade transcript, the Registrar’s Office could set its own price), and the graduation fee (“I’m not planning to attend my Convocation ceremony, so why should I pay that?).

For many other schools – especially universities – however, the ancillary-fee-withdrawal opportunity could become a bureaucratic nightmare. Many of them have fees which bankroll on-campus social interest groups, the “causes” of which may be objectionable to some individuals.

A reporter at Fullerton’s press conference, for instance, asked if a student would be able to opt-out of a fee that had been established to fund an on-campus LGBTQ-rights organization. Fullerton replied by passing the buck: “Students should support such organizations”, she said, as her personal opinion … but non-essential services will be identified by the schools themselves … But, does the ministry eventually have the power to approve of the fees that the schools have designated as essential and non-essential – and to over-rule such a designation?

And think of the potential new bureaucratic procedures and costs involved in this … Student A just pays all of the listed fees, anticipating that he may make use of the assorted services during his time at the school … Student B is behind A in the line-up at the Registrar’s Office. He opts out of Fees 3, 7 and 12. The clerk has to recalculate that individualized payment … Student C says she’s opting out of Fees 2, 5 and half of Number 9, because she might use the exercise equipment in the college’s gym during the first semester, but probably not in the second. Again, the clerk recalculates. And on and on it goes.

Or, this scenario … A student opts out of a particular fee at the start of the year; but, then, midway through the year, wants to – or has to – make use of the associated service. How is that supervised? How does a student opt back in?

That’s all we know and think at the moment. The Minister’s announcement just constitutes a “policy intention”. We await more clarity when the actual legislation is introduced … and, even more important, the regulations attached to the legislation. It is the latter which will, truly, depict how these changes will impact every party – students and the colleges as institutions – in a practical, day-to-day manner.

In a nutshell, right now, the Conservative plan does make postsecondary more affordable on the first day that you walk through a school’s entranceway.

But, if you require student assistance to open that door, your eligibility, degree of assistance and repayment process may be less generous than they were previously …

… And, unless the colleges and universities can cope with the revenue reduction they’ll be experiencing, the education and campus services you receive may be inferior to what they are now.