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Wynne says she worried about pitching tuition as free, says there are caveats

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne heads away from the microphone after talking with reporters at the summer meeting of Canada's premiers in St. John's on July 16, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Premier Kathleen Wynne says she worried about her government pitching a new student grant program as providing “free” tuition, since there are caveats.

The Liberal government announced in its recent budget that it is combining existing programs to create an Ontario Student Grant, which would pay for average college or university tuition for students from families with incomes of $50,000 or less.

But in a question-and-answer session with student leaders today, Wynne was asked why the program is being marketed as free tuition, when students who qualify would still have to pay $3,000.

“I have worried about the same thing, that it’s free with some explanation required,” she said. “I think at the same time if we’re talking about tuition, average tuition, the grant will cover that, so that will be free.”

The language around the new grant will likely “evolve,” she said.

The $3,000 figure was arrived at because staff determined it was a “reasonable amount” that a student could make at a summer job, the premier said.

Under the new program, half of students from families with incomes of $83,000 will qualify for non-repayable grants to cover their tuition and no student will receive less than they can currently receive.

The government is defining average college tuition as $2,768 and average university tuition as $6,160, for arts and science programs.

Wynne conceded the Ontario Student Grant is targeted at full-time, and not part-time students.

“I don’t think we actually have the plan for part-time students that we need,” she said. “There are some supports in place through the Canada Student Assistance Grants, but I think that there’s more that we have to do.”

She also acknowledged there are calls from some corners for free tuition for every student. Wynne said she was open to the discussion, but at the moment the government can pay for the new student grant through combining several programs and eliminating some tax credits.

“In an ideal world we might actually move there,” she said. “I don’t know at this point how we would do that.”