The tuition waiver program in B.C. has reached one if its first major milestones, with more than 1,000 former youth in care using the funds to pursue post-secondary education.
Since the program was launched province-wide in 2017, 1,119 students have been approved to have their tuition waived across 25 public university, colleges and trades schools. Last year, the province increased the age cap from 25 to 27.
Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark celebrated the growing program with 30 youth in care and former foster kids during a Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks event in Mission Saturday.
She spoke of how youth who have aged out of care face greater challenges and more barriers after high school graduation than those who aren’t placed into the child welfare system.
“You could be number 1,120,” she said to the group. “You can be the first person in your family to go to university.”
Roughly 750 to 1,000 youth age out of care each year, according to B.C. government statistics. Roughly 55 per cent of youth who have been placed in government care graduate high school, compared to the roughly 84 per cent provincial average. An estimated 2,200 former youth in care under the age of 26 are attending post-secondary schooling.
Caitlyn Mainer, 20, is one of those two-thousand young people working to earn a bachelor’s degree, at Douglas College in the psychology program. In her third year, she told Black Press Media that she’s been accessing both the tuition waiver program and the Agreement with Young Adults program since graduating from an alternative school in Maple Ridge.
The AYA program provides eligible former youth in care with funding for monthly living expenses while they finish high school or attend post-secondary, vocational training, life skills or rehabilitation programs, up to their 27th birthday.
Mainer said wants to see more young people using the tuition waiver program, but in order to do that the program’s eligibility requirements need to be more inclusive and also offer added supports.
“I think when you look at the amount of people who are using AYA and the tuition waiver, it’s the most successful and the people who got the best grades – it’s not really diverse in who it can accept and it has really strict guidelines,”she said.
“I think another thing that would be beneficial is getting mental health support – at least at my school they don’t offer any counselling that isn’t academic, so it can be a struggle. There’s a lot of stress that is associated with school.
“It is a journey and it’s not the easiest and if we had someone advocating in our corner it would be beneficial.”
When asked what she would tell a youth in care looking to post-secondary school, Mainer said that she knows it can feel scary and that’s OK, just be patient.
“A lot of times when you spent your high school years dealing with a lot of trauma, education was not your top priority, so that doesn’t mean you can’t catch up or that you’re not as smart as everyone else in your class you’re just smart in different ways,” she said.
“If you’re going to school and you are trying you are putting an effort in that is absolutely amazing, you are beating the odds for youth in care.”