The University of Winnipeg has recently announced the launch of its “Youth in Care Tuition Waiver Program.” Starting this September, the pilot program will see the tuition of 10 new students completely waived, and their living expenses fully covered. For students who might not have thought post-secondary education was in financial reach, this could be a game-changer.
The program is unique in Canada, in that it specifically caters to youth in foster care. According to the university’s press release, “There are more than 9,500 children and youth in care in Manitoba, the majority are First Nations and Metis, and it is estimated that less than 5% ever pursue a post-secondary education.”
Although my own parents were not well off, and I always knew I would have to work to pay my own tuition and books, I’m well aware of how fortunate I was to be provided with free room and board as I pursued my university education. Of course, one can’t forget about the emotional support and encouragement to pursue further education even if one’s parents don’t have the personal experience to give any detailed advice.
By contrast, it’s hard to imagine being in foster care, reaching the age of majority and being turned loose to fend for myself. At least, I don’t see myself doing so and still managing to figure out a way to get in, get through and pay for university — not while dealing with rent and groceries and the other basic requirements of daily life. At the very least, student loan debts would likely be substantial.
It’s worth noting to American readers that moving to a far-away university to live in residence is not the default option in Canada these days. In fact, a slim majority of the students in my generation do live at home. The percentage is almost certainly higher for students of the Univeristy of Winnipeg, which is uniquely situated right in the middle of the city’s downtown area. The limited student housing is quickly taken up by international and out-of-town students, while the majority of enrollees commute from somewhere within the city or its outskirts, where they (often) live with their parents.
Lloyd Axworthy, UW’s president and vice-chancellor, has seized on the university’s urban location as an opportunity to be a part of a community during his tenure at the university’s top post. Everything from community engagement, like community barbeques, free public art shows and musical performances, to increased accessibility via need-based bursaries, alternative entrance pathways and early intervention.
The Youth in Care pilot is only the latest in a long series of ongoing programs to improve equity of access for prospective students. The Opportunity Fund, for example, is a need-based scholarship that allows low-income students to earn university tuition credits as early as grade four, by staying in school and working hard. A high school graduate in this program can essentially have their first year paid for by staying focused during their primary and secondary studies.
Photo credit: KrazyTea