What is Durham College doing to help students navigate post-secondary?

Lower income students will soon be getting more financial help from the provincial government, but some people say it’s not enough.


When provincial finance minister Charles Sousa announced the Ontario budget in March, part of the announcement was that students from lower income families would receive larger grants to essentially pay off their tuition.

Nicky Patel, director of First Generation at Durham College, says the fact tuition will essentially be free for lower income families will help them, but there needs to be clarification on what free tuition means.

“Free tuition is not necessarily free housing, free transportation, free everything,” she says. “Students still have to pay for a certain number of services and things.”

Like many others, Patel says to say “free tuition” is misleading due to the other expenses students will incur during their time in post-secondary.

“They will need to have their own sustainable life outside of the just the tuition,” she says. “So even though tuition might be free, not all of your study is going to be free.”

When Sousa announced the budget, he said students who come from families who make less than $50,000 per year would be eligible to receive grants that would pay their tuition if they choose to attend post-secondary. The new plan will begin during the 2017-18 school year.

The government expects that increase will significantly help lower income families. However, while that may help students pay for tuition at most colleges, tuition at universities is more expensive and may not be completely paid off.

What are schools such as Durham College and UOIT doing to help students from lower income families to get an education?

Durham College and UOIT both have programs called First Generation. While what the programs differ slightly, they are both a government-funded initiative where students who are the first in their family to attend post-secondary can receive the support that they need.

“Those students have special needs that other students may not have, says Patel. “They may not know how to navigate the system, get assistance when they need it, have access to services. There are a lot of different challenges that they face.”

Janice Storgaard is an Oshawa mother of three. Neither she nor her husband went to post-secondary, making it more difficult for her to help her children along the way.

Her family lives on one income, making a post-secondary education for her children difficult to pay for as well. Storgaard’s son, Christian Storgaard, is in Grade 11 at Eastdale C.V.I. She’s sceptical about what the province’s initiative will offer her son. He wants more information. “I think they should start [helping] at the start of Grade 11 because that’s when you start planning stuff out,” he says.

When the government announced its tuition plan, many people rejoiced. Patel says it wasn’t made clear the increase in grants are not going to pay for the lifestyle that these students will lead. They will have to find a way to do so on their own.

However, with programs like First Generation, she says there is someone there to help those who are not able to navigate the post-secondary lifestyle on their own.