Following the B.C. government’s decision to waive tuition fees for former youth in care at post-secondary institutions, ex-foster kids have been flocking towards colleges and universities across the province.
According to The Province, there are currently 687 students in B.C. who are utilising the tuition waivers, compared to the 189 documented in 2017. Laura Vail, the Director of Student Success at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, says that, as of the fall semester, 28 of those students are enrolled at KPU.
“I think it’s awesome,” says Vail. “The provincial support these students are getting is so incredibly important to providing access to such a wide range of students who might not have had an opportunity otherwise to attend post-secondary institutions.”
On Sept. 1 of last year, Premier John Horgan and Minister of Advanced Education, Skills, and Training Melanie Mark announced an expansion to the tuition waiver program for former youth-in-care in B.C. Although it was previously only available at 11 of the publicly-funded colleges and universities in the province, the program now ensures that ex-youth in care will have access to any of B.C.’s 25 post-secondary institutions.
“We’re investing in the futures of former youth in care because it’s the right thing to do,” says Mark. “They have had enough injustice. Now it’s time to support them to thrive and reach their full potential. This is only the beginning of us opening doors together.”
A former youth in care who uses the tuition waiver to study jazz at Capilano University, Feven Kidane, says that she wouldn’t be able to make ends meet as a student without access to the program.
“It’s a very large opportunity to be afforded. They’re literally covering all of it. It’s a huge blessing,” she says.
To be eligible for the expanded tuition waiver program, students must be between the ages of 19 and 26. They must also be a resident of B.C. who has spent at least 24 months in care. Students who don’t entirely meet eligibility requirements can still be granted a bursary to help cover their expenses.
In addition to the tuition waiver program, the government has also donated $100,000 to the Take the Wheel driver program, helping youth in care get the materials they need to learn how to drive.
“We have to be mindful that when youth in care age out at 19 years old, they don’t have the same supports that other students might take for granted,” says Mark. “They don’t have a home for the holidays, or parents to lean on when the unexpected happens. The government was their parent while they were in care, and it’s our job to continue to support and encourage them into their adulthood.”
At KPU, students are encouraged to contact their counsellor or head over to the office for student awards and financial assistance, located on every campus, if they want to use the waiver.
“KPU is on the forefront of supporting former youth in care, and I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done around supporting those students,” says Vail. “We continue to reach out to these students in care to ensure they know that they have the support from KPU and that they can ask for help, whether it’s academic or financial or otherwise. There are key people here who are really here to help support them.”