MUN's free tuition program a 'game changer' for former youth in care

·3 min read
MUN's free tuition program a 'game changer' for former youth in care

A new program that will pay for former youth in care to go to university is money well spent, according to both Memorial University's president and an advocate for children in foster care.

The program will cover the cost of four years of undergraduate tuition and fees for young people who have been in the foster care system, something MUN President Vianne Timmons says will give those students "a hand up."

"It's really important for those young people to see, and to know, that university is accessible for them … I wanted to make sure that this group in particular had the hope and the resources for a positive future," she said.

"We do have scholarships and bursaries to support lots of students but we wanted to target this group because so many, when they hit 18 years old, are lost. They don't have the system behind them to support them."

The university said in a news release Thursday that the program would be made available for 20 students, but Timmons told CBC News she's willing to expand it if necessary.

"I guarantee you, if there's more than 20 that step up, we're lifting that cap. Our registrar does not know that yet, but I'm saying this," she said.

"I want to make sure that anyone who has gone through the foster system has access to a university education with undue harm."

This is a program that changes lives. - Vianne Timmons

Timmons said the initiative is so important to her, she will personally donate enough money to cover the tuition of one of the students availing of the program.

"[I] came from a family where no one went to university. All six of us, my brothers and sisters, got access to a university education. It changed our lives," she said.

"So this is a program that changes lives."

In addition to putting forward her own money, Timmons said the university will be looking for donations and reviewing its own spending to cover the cost of the program, diverting funds from other areas if necessary.

The program will launch in the Spring 2021 semester with Timmons saying the program will continue as long as she is president, and hopefully long after.

'A game changer'

Bruce Tilley/CBC
Bruce Tilley/CBC

Heather Modlin, provincial director of fostering agency Key Assets, says the program will likely have a huge effect in the lives of the young people who avail of it.

"This has the potential to really be a game changer for children in care and children who have been in care," she said.

Modlin said making a education more accessible to youth who have been in foster care is a vote of confidence in those children from the university.

"I've worked with young people in care for a really long time and I've known some extraordinarily intelligent, innovative, creative, resilient young people who haven't always had the same opportunities in life that other children may have," she said.

"When children know there's an opportunity, they will rise to meet that … children in care have gotten a really loud and clear message from the university that we believe in you, you belong here and we want to make it possible for you to come to university."

And the effect of program goes beyond the individual, Modlin said.

"Whenever we give people an opportunity to get out of a cycle and create a healthier cycle, there are economic benefits, there are mental health benefits, there are impacts on our health care [system]."

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