Any British Columbians who were youths in care in the province will have their tuition fees covered whenever they’re ready to pursue post-secondary education.
The provincial government, at a press conference Tuesday, March 14, at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island University, announced the expansion of the tuition waiver program. The waiver was previously available to former youths in care between the ages of 19 and 26, but starting Aug. 1, it will become available to former youths in care of any age.
Mallory Woods, a 25-year-old VIU student, said the waiver is “like a love letter to potential students.” When they were 16, they were living out of a recreational vehicle behind a pub, but now are close to graduating with the equivalent of a 4.0 grade point average. They plan on getting a master’s degree in counselling and continue to advocate for youth services.
“I was a youth that was on a youth agreement and now I’m a young adult on a young adult agreement, but during those months when I’m not accessing that funding, if I have class, I have tuition and I would be unable to pay that,” said Woods. “I work four jobs part-time, I do part-time studies, and it would not be possible for me to be here if I didn’t have the tuition waiver program.”
With more than one million job openings expected in B.C. over the next 10 years, Selina Robinson, B.C. minister of post-secondary education, said the government wants to ensure all former youth in care can access post-secondary opportunities.
“We also know that education and skills training is the great equalizer that absolutely transforms lives and as part of our future-ready plan,” the minister said. “We want to make sure that people who have been historically disadvantaged have the resources that they need to an education and go on to find meaningful well-paying jobs and careers that set them up for life-long success.”
The waiver can be applied to degree, diploma and certificate programs, as well as apprenticeships and continuing education. Additional grants of up to $3,500 will also be available for education expenses such as textbooks and tech.
The province says approximately 1,900 students have benefited from the program since it began in 2017, with $13 million in tuition and fees waived over the years. The government calculates that the expansion of the program will cost $19.2 million over three years and support an additional 1,000-1,500 students.
VIU first introduced the tuition waiver in 2013, with 400 students part of the program in that time and 120 graduates. The province began offering its own program in 2017. VIU has learned lessons along the way, said Deborah Saucier, VIU president and vice-chancellor, including the realization that tuition is not the biggest issue for many students, finding a place to stay is.
“Housing is increasingly an issue on the Island, and is increasingly unaffordable for everyone, let alone someone who’s aged out of care … We’ve hired, for instance, to do that, a housing coordinator for all of our students to go out and try and find places that are safe and affordable. We also had an announcement last summer, that will actually nearly double our residence spaces on campus. These are the kinds of things that actually affect individuals who are aging out of care,” said Saucier.