A new program at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax aims to make it easier for people who've grown up in the foster care system to get a post-secondary education.
MSVU announced Monday that it is waiving the cost of tuition and other fees for former youth in care.
The pilot program, which begins in January for up to 10 students, is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, according to the university.
There is no age limit to apply, which is key, said Jane Kovarikova, who grew up in the foster care system in Ontario and later founded Child Welfare Political Action Committee Canada.
She's been working with MSVU to launch the program, which has already rolled out in other provinces.
"A lot of youth, when they leave the care system, end up experiencing ... poverty, homelessness or housing instability, sometimes early parenthood," Kovarikova told CBC Radio's Information Morning.
"It just may take some time to get your life on track before you're ready to pursue post-secondary studies, which is why I love the MSVU program, because there's no age restriction. It recognizes those barriers."
She said some 60 per cent of youth in care end up dropping out of high school, like she did. They also often change schools, which can put them behind academically.
Kovarikova said returning to school years later can be daunting — from filling out forms with parental information to covering tuition.
"I was lucky because I had my biological grandfather step forward and end up paying my undergraduate tuition," she said. "But you can't just, like, depend ... on luck or grandpas, right?"
100% of tuition covered
The MSVU program is open to people who are pursuing their first degree and who were in foster care for at least one year. They also have to meet the criteria for the program they want to enrol in.
Participants in the program will have 100 per cent of their tuition covered, as well as compulsory fees, which include recreation and student union fees. The program doesn't currently cover living expenses.
Staff at the university will help students in the program "navigate their MSVU experience — from completing the tuition waiver program application to completing their degree," the university said in a statement.
Staff will also make sure students know about other resources that could help them throughout their degree.
Julie McMullin, vice-president academic and provost at MSVU, said the program is a good fit for the university.
"We were founded by women, for women, at a time when women did not have access — or at least much access — to higher education. So it's about providing access to people who need it," she said.
She said the university already has a high number of students from underrepresented groups.
"This is in part because we provide the personalized, supportive environment that allows students with these diverse needs to thrive," she said.
McMullin said the university will see how many people are interested in the pilot program in January and reassess the number of spots available for the return of school in September 2021.
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