McMaster University program to offer tuition-free education to foster kids

·3 min read

Chanice McAnuff, a second-year psychology student at McMaster University who spent most of her teenage years in foster care, says university has helped her find her “identity.”

“I thought that it was really important if I wanted to really see an end to the cycle of poverty that I saw within my family and in my life, I would need to plan for my future,” she said.

But, it hasn’t always been easy.

“My journey has been definitely very rocky,” said McAnuff, 22, adding that funding, often from government, isn’t a certainty.

A new McMaster program offering tuition-free education to 20 current and former foster kids could help relieve some of the financial burden for students like McAnuff.

“The whole tuition waiver has eliminated that pressure for us,” said McAnuff, who also works with Child Welfare Political Action Committee Canada (Childwelfare PAC), which advocates for improving post-secondary access for former foster kids, and runs her own non-profit, Project Outsiders.

“It’s definitely been a really great day.”

The new program, announced Feb. 10, is open to “academically qualified students who are current or former foster children, regardless of age,” and is currently accepting applications for fall 2021, according to the university.

Both new students and those already enrolled at McMaster are eligible.

McMaster is the eighth post-secondary institution in the province — and the first in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) — to adopt the program, which the university will fund.

“We are very pleased to launch this program at McMaster,” David Farrar, McMaster president and vice-chancellor, said in a press release. “It will not only help to remove financial barriers for Crown ward students but will enrich our campus by introducing new and diverse voices to our community.”

The program supports McMaster’s Access Strategy, an initiative launched in 2019 to help learners “from a variety of under-represented groups access university education,” the release reads.

In an email to The Spectator, university spokesperson Wade Hemsworth said “the university will make every effort to help all qualified applicants.” And, while the program currently provides funding for 20 students, McMaster will be “monitoring demand.”

The program is open to students in any program, at both the undergraduate and master’s levels, though the university says they anticipate the greatest demand will be for undergraduate study.

“It increases your earning potential, it allows you to fully thrive and to pursue your dreams,” said Jane Kovarikova, founder of the Childwelfare PAC — the organization lobbying for schools to adopt the program.

She also told The Spectator education also has “protective effects” against common outcomes after care, like early parenthood and involvement in the criminal justice system.

Typically, Kovarikova said, foster kids are “evicted” from care at 18 years old and, in Ontario, receive an allowance of $850 a month until they are 21.

Life tends to be “really rough” in those transition years, she added.

“Which is why it was so important that this program doesn’t have age limits, that people can take advantage of this opportunity for social mobility when they’re ready.”

Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator