Georgian College officals anticipate some students won’t be returning next fall and others won’t go to college because of provincial student funding changes announced in January.
“We’ll have to sort of see how things play out, but we suspect that there are students that won’t be able to return because they’re not funded, or they’re funded at a lower rate,” Owen Sound campus dean Fred Varkaris told The Sun Times this week.
“And I think it (student funding cuts) is discouraging students to apply in the first place.”
On Jan. 17, the provincial government cut college and university tuition by 10 per cent, made paying student fees optional and froze tuition rates for the 2020-21 school year.
But it also reduced the number of students qualifying for grants and loans and eliminated free tuition to qualifying low-income students under the Ontario Student Assistance Program.
The Ontario government noted the auditor general’s concern that OSAP was fiscally unsustainable. In 2020-21, it could cost more than $2 billion.
Schools are expected to find efficiencies while maintaining quality. The changes drew student protests at schools across the province.
Right after the government announcement, applications to Georgian College through the Ontario College Application Service dropped by five or 10 per cent, Varkaris said.
This ran counter to the college’s experience of annual enrolment increases, he said. The size of the drop is an estimate because student recruitment continues.
“My understanding is we were kind of going along with good applications and soon as all the announcements came about OSAP and everything else, the applications just dropped right off,” Varkaris said. “All colleges are experiencing this.”
Georgian College is among the top 10 schools most affected by the OSAP reductions, he understands.
Colleges Ontario, the advocacy group for the province’s 24 colleges of applied arts and technology, couldn’t comment on the impact of OSAP changes yet. But it confirmed college enrolment has been increasing in recent years, and cited “significant increases in international enrolment” as one factor.
If enrolment drops, budget tightening would follow, Varkaris said.
Varkaris suggested the enrolment decline is also influenced by demographics because fewer students are graduating from high school. And when the economy is strong and jobs are unfilled, college applications decline, he said.
“But that OSAP thing seems to have hit us a little bit,” he said. “It’s fairly significant,” to the Owen Sound campus. “When we only have about 1,000 post-secondary students, a drop of 100 is actually significant.”
There are many more students who attend Georgian, but go there for retraining and other reasons and aren’t hit by OSAP changes.
Varkaris said there the 10 per cent tuition cut — on the backs of the colleges’ budgets — will mean a budget cut of about 10 per cent. In Georgian’s case, it may mean fewer classes and teachers may lose hours.
“I don’t think it would cost anybody a job at this point. We are so heavily staffed with non-full-time faculty members, for example, that there might be a slight reduction in (teaching) hours.”
The school is stepping up efforts to follow up with students who have applied to Georgian and to other schools, to encourage them to choose Georgian. There’s an applicant reception by invitation only on March 23 get them to commit, Varkaris said.
In light of the demand for skilled tradespeople, Georgian’s Owen Sound campus is also beefing up its apprenticeship training offerings, which should boost enrolment.
The new apprenticeships starting next fall will train educational assistants and students in electrician construction maintenance and industrial electrician apprenticeships start next year.
After that, millwright and hairstyling apprenticeships will be offered.
The college already offers carpentry, cook and child development practitioner apprenticeships.
Varkaris noted that though the former Sydenham public school next to the college is being converted into a training hub where Georgian could expand, it won’t been needed anytime soon. Those multi-year apprenticeships will need to fill up with students first.
“It’s going to be a while before we reach capacity where we need that space in the current climate with reductions and everything,” Varkaris said.