B.C. Premier John Horgan was at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island University on Friday for an announcement that will see tuition waived for former youths in care. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

B.C. to offer free tuition for young adults raised in foster care

B.C. Premier John Horgan announced an expanded tuition waiver program Friday in Nanaimo

Post-secondary institutions around B.C. will follow the lead of Vancouver Island University with implementation of a program waiving tuition for young adults leaving foster care.

The university was the first in B.C. to implement the waiver program, followed by 11 other institutions. The program will cover tuition fees for students provided they are from B.C., between 19 and 26 years old and have been care for at least two years meaning all 25 institutions will have the program. Qualifying students who have already paid tuition for the upcoming semester will be refunded.

Minister of Advanced Education Melanie Mark told the News Bulletin her ministry will provide funding and will work alongside Katrine Conroy and the ministry of children and family development and other ministries for the program.

“We did some consultation to try to get a handle on the numbers and our commitment at this point is anywhere between $1.5-2 million,” said Mark. “This policy announcement is also a commitment to look at the other wraparound support that may be needed from the ministry for children and families, so we’ll be working hand-in-hand, Minister Conroy and I and also working with [Education Minister Rob Fleming].

“We want to make sure that these young people are post-secondary ready. As you know, many of these young people aren’t graduating from high school, so we need to do something about that and this announcement is really about opening that door and working co-operatively.”

There was no mention about other children in need, but Horgan said more announcements would be coming in the future.

“We’re committed to bringing forward a poverty-reduction plan,” said Horgan. “We’ve taken some preliminary steps in that regard by increasing income assistance and disability rates for the first time in eight or nine years. We’ve taken steps to ensure we’re putting in place earnings exemptions so that people on disabilities and income assistance can earn more money without it being clawed back by the Crown and we’re going to be doing much, much more in the days and weeks ahead.”

Ralph Nilson, VIU president and vice-chancellor, said his institution decided to implement the program in 2013 after hearing statistics from former B.C. representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

Nilson said there were more than 8,000 kids in care in B.C. and 64 per cent of those were aboriginal. Nilson said it’s a direct relationship to the inter-generational impact of the residential school system.

“So as a school that’s really focusing on reconciliation, we had to say, ‘How do we address this?’ ‘How do we get at this?’” said Nilson. “How do we move education from that place of not being an asset for all these young people to a place of being an asset and really having the education as a determinant of social change for their lives and indeed then be able to support themselves with that sustainable economic prosperity?

“So we talked a lot in the community and then we decided we were just going to go and it was the right thing to do.”

reporter@nanaimobulletin.com