09/11/2017 10:32 EDT | Updated 09/12/2017 10:42 EDT

So far 185,000 post-secondary students in Ontario have received free tuition

TORONTO — Ontario's minister responsible for post-secondary education says 185,000 students have received free tuition this year under a new government program.

Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews announced the figures Monday, which equal more than a third of all full-time college and university students in Ontario.

First announced in last year's budget, the new Ontario Student Assistance Program that gives a combination of grants and loans took effect for this school year.

For example, a student going straight from high school to university whose parents make $70,000 could receive $7,300 in grants, which would cover the average cost of tuition, and $8,300 in repayable loans.

Matthews says a three-per-cent tuition increase cap is continuing, but these grants will ensure more people, especially those from lower income families, can pursue post-secondary education.

Officials define free tuition as the actual cost of a regular college diploma program or undergraduate arts or science university program, or average tuition in a high-cost program such as engineering.

Government figures show that as of Sept. 1, 384,332 students had submitted OSAP applications, an increase of 15 per cent from the previous year.

Officials expect that once all applications are processed, about 210,000 students will have received free tuition.

The demand is higher than officials had initially anticipated, but on the capacity side, Matthews said universities and colleges have the ability to make room.

On the funding side, officials had initially said that various programs were being rolled into one in the new OSAP, and with certain tax credits being cancelled, the new program wouldn't cost any additional money.

Matthews said it's too early to tell if the high demand will mean the program costs more than the government anticipated.

"As (Finance Minister) Charles Sousa said, 'That will be a great problem to have,'" Matthews said.

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