How valuable will education be if everyone gets it for free?

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Starting in September 2018, students in Ontario wishing to pursue a post secondary education will get more financial help from the provincial government.

Named the Ontario Student Grant, the program is described on the government’s website as “a way to help OSAP empower more students to seek an advanced education based on their abilities and potential, not their family’s income.”

The new OSAP will run under the following three new concepts regarding repayment and eligibility:

• Allowing eligible students whose parents earn less than $50,000 to graduate without having to pay back provincial student loans.

• Providing the Ontario Student Grant to make the average cost of college and university tuition free for thousands of low- and middle-income students.

• Ensuring no eligible student receives less aid than they are eligible for now under the 30 per cent Off Ontario Tuition Grant, which the new OSAP will replace.

New rules are being implemented in hopes that more students will be able to attend post secondary institutions, which sounds great, but it makes me wonder: How valuable will my education be when everyone gets one for free?

It’s a tough issue to navigate. Personally, I have benefitted from OSAP loans (tons of them) and don’t think I would have gotten as far as I have without them.

But I also know without the overhanging dread of the OSAP loan being on my mind every second of the day I probably would not put as much effort into my schoolwork.

If something is  given to you for free, you naturally tend to take it for granted. I worry these new OSAP rules will lead to class upon class of barely engaged students. Would you care about failing if you knew it didn’t cost you anything except time?

Another concern when I think about providing loan-free post-secondary educations is I will lose the very tiny edge I have when I graduate and begin to enter the workforce: my degree.

Currently, I can expect my degree from UW to count for something in the working world and to possibly propel me above other job candidates.

But if everyone could get their degree, regardless of financial or academic input, then we may find ourselves competing in a future workforce with thousands of similar candidates, instead of just hundreds like it is now.

Holding this opinion makes me feel elitist, as if I think only people who pay for education would value or make use of it. But I’m speaking from my personal experience — one of the only things that keeps my attendance regular is reminding myself how much I’m paying and how much I owe. For some students this stress can be too much and I understand that eliminating these stresses could help students focus on their schoolwork. I agree this could work for a small group of students, but if we are really, truly honest with ourselves what is more likely? Students using their lack of financial stress to do better in school or using it for extracurricular indulgences?

I want so badly to believe that this is an awesome move for the Ontario education system but I just don’t believe students will use the benefits to their advantage. Hopefully I’m just supremely cynical about post-secondary loan programs; I’m jaded from three years of paying off OSAP debt.

Leanna Walsh

4B Rhetoric, Media and Professional Communication

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