The number of ex-foster kids getting a free education at B.C. colleges and universities jumped 20 per cent after the NDP government waived tuition fees last fall, statistics show.
A total of 229 ex-foster kids received tuition waivers from September to December compared with 189 for the entire 2016-17 school year, the government said.
The province has spent $443,000 on the program to date to cover tuition and mandatory fees at 17 post-secondary schools.
Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark said she’s “thrilled” to see so many students taking advantage of the new program.
“When we created the policy, they said: ‘What’s going to be the measure of success? What’s success going to look like?’ And I said: ‘One. If one more student goes to post-secondary, that’s a victory.’
“So we’ve got an increase of 20 per cent.”
Mark said the government is looking at ways to boost “wrap-around” supports for the students, who are enrolled in a range of programs from nursing and pre-medical studies to trades, business and graphics design.
“We’ll certainly be enhancing where needed, but we’re still listening,” she said. “It’s still a new policy and it’s too premature, I believe, to make any rash changes.”
Premier John Horgan announced in September that his government was waiving tuition fees for former youth in care at all 26 post-secondary schools in the province.
The move expanded on programs already in place at 11 colleges and universities.
The government said the enrolment increases were mainly at schools, such as Camosun College, that previously lacked a comprehensive tuition waiver program. Camosun now has 31 former youth in care taking courses.
Joan Yates, Camosun’s vice-president of student experience, said the college was pleasantly surprised by the increase.
“We’re huge believers that education is an incredibly important tool for people in terms of rebuilding or building their lives and futures,” she said. “This just fits absolutely beautifully with our mandate, so we’re pretty happy about it.”
Vancouver Island University, which was the first school to offer tuition waivers in 2013, continues to lead other institutions with 85 students attending for free this year, up from 65 last year.
The school itself covers the costs for about 35 per cent of those students, because they failed to meet the province’s requirement that applicants be under 27 years of age and have spent at least 24 months in care.
“We don’t have an age cap on it and we say that to qualify [students] need to be in care for a minimum of 12 months,” said William Litchfield, associate vice-president of university relations.
He added that VIU supports the students by investing in counselling and financial aid programs, and raises additional money across the country to help them with child care, housing, transportation and books.
Litchfield said VIU believes its role is to make sure all the kids in its community have an opportunity to attend a post-secondary school and find a good job.
“This is one of our favourite programs,” he said. “These are students that have gone on to win academic achievements and they’re doing absolutely fantastic, but for the most part they weren’t being given the chance they need to shine.”