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Free tuition – but for whom? Charting Ontario students' fiscal landscape

Ontario is promising that many low-income students will have their tuition costs covered. Details are still murky about who exactly qualifies, or whether the loans and grants would cover the entire bill. The economic situation students face is uncertain but this primer and a few personal-finance tools will help students make informed decisions.

KEVIN VAN PAASSEN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

WHAT THE GOVERNMENT PROMISES

Changes proposed in Thursday's provincial budget would merge several student loans and grants into a single program, the Ontario Student Grant. Finance Minister Charles Sousa says it would be worth "roughly the same" as the $1.3-billion Ontario currently spends.

The government's budget report promises to make the average university or college tuitions free for students with financial need whose family incomes are $50,000 or less. The report defines "financial need" as the difference between students' education expenses and their personal financial situation, "which includes income, savings and what the student's family or spouse is expected to contribute."


Back at school? Check out The Globe's smart student money tips Check out a compilation of Globe stories to help Canadian students learn how to successfully manage their money, including tips on student loans, investing, career building and debt repayment.

HOW MUCH DO ONTARIANS MAKE?

Half of Ontario's households make more than $84,000 a year. Students whose families are close to that threshold will have more access to loans and slightly more grants.

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Students with low-income parents are less likely to pursue postsecondary education. In 2005, a report recommending an overhaul of Ontario's education system, released by former premier Bob Rae, noted 36 per cent of parents in the lowest income quartile had children in higher education, compared with 57 per cent in the highest quartile.


HOW MUCH DO ONTARIANS PAY FOR EDUCATION?

Ontario has the highest tuition fees of any province in Canada. In 2013, the Liberals capped annual tuition hikes at 3 per cent, but that expires next year when the new financial-aid system is introduced.


HOW MUCH DOES THE GOVERNMENT PAY FOR EDUCATION?

In the 2013-14 academic year, Ontario universities received more from student fees than any other province, and less of their total income from government revenue than any other province.


WHAT ARE STUDENTS DOING AFTER THEY GRADUATE?

In a volatile job market, students graduating with debt may find work out of their field of study to stay on an even financial keel. But the degrees are still important to launching a career. A study by the Research Universities' Council of B.C. released last year found that, of students who graduated from six B.C. universities between 2008 to 2012, "the vast majority of students … are finding good jobs and earning good salaries."


With reports from Simona Chiose and Mark Hume


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