A small but vocal group of St. Lawrence College students left their classes Monday afternoon to protest the provincial cuts to the free-tuition program.
Students with a bull horn expressed anger, frustration, and anxiety over what the changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) might mean for them.
READ MORE: Ontario government announces changes to OSAP
Tyler Watt is in his third year in St. Lawrence’s BSC Nursing Program.
As a mature student, Watt says he’s received $6,000 in grant money to put towards his tuition.
“It was a bursary that was life changing but it was a bursary of the average tuition in Ontario that was put to my own tuition,” he said.
Watt says his tuition is actually $8,000 so it hasn’t been entirely free but he is thankful for the assistance.
READ MORE: Queen’s students protest changes to OSAP
Unfortunately, for Watt, when you include rent, books, and a host of other costs, he will still graduate $80,000 in debt.
St. Lawrence College president Glenn Volbrecht says between 70 and 80 per cent of students at the college get some form of financial aid and the provincial changes to OSAP could affect thousands of students at the college.
Volbrecht says there are still too many unknowns in the governments plan to properly assess the ramifications.
“To gauge the impact of this for St. Lawrence College it’s really too early to tell.”
The province is promising to reduce tuition’s by 10 per cent, a funding reduction Volbrecht says the college will have to live with.
“That represents about two per cent of our annual revenue and we’ve worked hard to be in a solid position as an institution as an academic institution and we’ll adjust accordingly,” he said.
For student Matthew Parada, the adjustment for him is dropping out this semester.
“I have to drop out, I have to go back to work for another year, put my education on hold,” he said.
The third-year Behavioral Psychology student says he has a year and a half left of his education and the current assistance he gets isn’t enough to survive on.
“Just being so close to the finish line, being in my third year already thinking about my thesis year, it was heartbreaking, honestly, and knowing I didn’t have the money to live it was crushing,” Parada said.
Vollebrecht says he hopes before any student quits they will first consult with the college’s financial aid department.
“There are a number of bursary opportunities, jobs on campus, there are a whole bunch of different ways that students can get involved in the college and help support their education,” he said.
For many students, the next few months will be a serious examination of their budgets to see if pausing their education or taking on more debt is the best path forward.