Vancouver Island University is leading B.C. with a new initiative that will allow students who have grown up in the province's social care programs to waive their tuitions.
Provincial representatives, including Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk and Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux, were on hand Tuesday to announce that VIU will be the first university in the province to waive tuition for eligible students who have grown up in B.C.'s care system, beginning in September.
The program is considered the first step in overcoming financial barriers that make it difficult for these students to consider and achieve success in higher education. On Vancouver Island alone, there are more than 900 youth in care under a continuing custody order, the majority of whom are aboriginal.
But studies have shown that even with some tuition financing available for these vulnerable students, they are 50 per cent more likely to take advantage of post-secondary educational opportunities.
"VIU is proud to be the first university in B.C. to offer tuition waivers to qualifying youth in care," said VIU president Ralph Nilson.
"Many families in the region live below the poverty line and don't have the choices that many of us have. This is a pilot project with the first eligible students applying in September but we're hoping to establish other support systems to help these students achieve academic success, including opportunities with housing, books and work/study initiatives."
Eligible students must be recommended by a child and family services agency, demonstrate financial need, be 18 during the 2013-14 academic year and have been accepted to VIU.
Programs such as the tuition waiver program are considered critical in ensuring more youth in care can get access post-secondary education and the opportunities it affords, including better employment options and increased self sufficiency.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, was instrumental in the creation of the new program.
She told the audience at the program's unveiling that it will "pay enormous dividends" for the program's students and society in general.
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