Horgan announces free post-secondary tuition for former foster kids

The B.C. government is waiving tuition fees for former foster children attending college or university.

Premier John Horgan announced this morning that all 25 post-secondary schools in the province will offer free tuition to young people who spent at least two years in government care.

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“This program will provide a better future for children in care,” he said.

“I can’t think of a better way to start September than to announce there will no longer be tuition costs for those kids who have had the roughest of goes and [whom] we want to have the brightest of futures.”

Horgan made the announcement at Vancouver Island University, which, in 2013, became the first post-secondary school to offer free tuition to former foster kids.

The school was responding at the time to a challenge by then-Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who had urged all post-secondary schools to waive tuition for youth in care.

The University of Victoria and nine other schools later adopted similar programs to the one at VIU.

Horgan, who fought back tears as he made the announcement, said he wanted to show children in care that the new government has their back.

“I was the first child in my family to get an opportunity to attend a post-secondary institution and I had help along the way,” he said.

“I believe it’s the genuine power of giving people opportunity, that once someone, an individual, has hope and has people at their back, they can achieve virtually anything.”

Vancouver Island University president Ralph Nilson thanked Turpel-Lafond “for poking us with a sharp stick” and said the new program will change lives.

“The doors are open,” he said. “We’re all going to be providing opportunities for kids to come in. And this will be a game-changer for individuals, but it will be a game-changer for the province in terms of demonstrating that the government cares.”

Turpel-Lafond, who attended the announcement, said it was a satisfying moment for her after years of trying to convince the former Liberal government to waive the fees.

“It was a fight and it was not an easy one and I went to government repeatedly and said, ‘This is so easy to do. This is going to cost you less than $1 million and you can do it immediately. And it’s so inspirational to those kids in Grade 3 and Grade 4 who are in care who are behind and need support.’

“And they wouldn’t do it.”

Turpel-Lafond said she then appealed directly to colleges and universities and got 11 of the 25 to act.

“I was very proud of all of those schools for coming on, but now it’s going to be all 25.”

Turpel-Lafond expressed her thanks to all British Columbians, many of whom are unable to afford to send their own children to college or university.

“I hope that those barriers will come down, but for kids in care, the state is the parent and this is the right thing to do — even if it’s overdue.”

Horgan said the NDP government will be announcing additional supports in the near future for young people aging out of government care.

“We will be doing much, much more in the days and weeks and months ahead to send a signal to children in care that the government of British Columbia has their back.”

The tuition waiver is the latest in a series of moves by Horgan and his cabinet that follow through on key promises in their election platform.

The premier announced last month that this government was scrapping tuition fees for adult basic education and English language training programs across B.C.

The Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training will cover the cost of the tuition waiver for the remainder of the 2017-18 fiscal year, the government said.

The tuition waivers will be available to young people from B.C., ages 19 to 26, who were in government care for at least two years. Eligible students who have already paid their school fees will get a refund.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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