Eliminating Barriers to Access
Nearly 1,000 youth age-out of government care each year. Many of these youth, at 19 years of age, do not have foster or family homes to go to—they are on their own. In contrast, parents in BC typically provide their own children the opportunity to continue to live at home beyond 19, along with a host of financial and other supports.
Youth aging out of care face additional barriers over those who are able to receive support from their families. These range from financial resources to meet basic needs, to difficulty finding housing, to a lack of support and services to transition successfully to adulthood.
Post-secondary education participation rates for youth from the care system are roughly half the rate of most young people in BC. Enrolment in university programs is even lower—university graduation rates among youth from care are one-sixth or less than the general population.
Students have supported the Fostering Change campaign of the Vancouver Foundation, which has called for a widespread, comprehensive, and fully-funded tuition fee waiver program. Though some institutions in BC currently offer a tuition waiver for young people from care, these programs are limited, institution-specific and often feature restrictive requirements for admission. Given that the BC government’s own data shows that funding from families is a primary source of financial support for those completing a four-year degree, a more universal approach to fill that gap for youth from the care system is needed.
In September 2017, the government of British Columbia expanded the Tuition Fee Wavier program to all 25 public post-secondary institutions across the province. This program – previously only available at 11 public post-secondary institutions – provides tuition waivers to former youth in care, who are less likely to have access to post-secondary education or training than young people who grew up with family supports.
The post-secondary education system in British Columbia can be a tool for success, so long as it is financially and geographically accessible. The decision to waive tuition fees for youth from the care system opens doors to opportunities that were previously closed for some of BC’s more vulnerable and marginalized young people.
This program expansion has increased access to many young people who previously were not able to attend post-secondary due to financial barriers. In January 2018, it was reported that there was an increase of 21% of former youth in care accessing the program and are enrolled in post-secondary institutions.