By: Amei-lee Laboucan
A Lower Mainland university is taking steps to bring together former youth in care who make use of the provincial tuition waiver program.
Of the 806 former youth in care who are using the waivers in British Columbia, 25 of them are currently studying at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, according to Laura Vail, Director of Student Success for the university.
Last year, Vail told The Runner that KPU is excited to see students accessing the program and encourages anyone interested in using it to talk to the university’s counsellors and advisors.
“The provincial support these students are getting is so incredibly important to providing access to such a wide range of students who might not have had an opportunity otherwise to attend post-secondary institutions,” she said.
KPU English student Olivia Anderson says she is “not confident that [she] would actually be in university if there wasn’t a tuition waiver.”
If the financial barriers to taking post-secondary classes had not been removed for her, Anderson believes her capability to do well in school would decline.
“I would be working a lot in order to make that money and I wouldn’t really be able to focus on school and do well,” she says.
Vail says that KPU has brought students who make use of the tuition waivers together to meet each other in the past. However, with how quickly the waiver program grew, the university was not able to continue to provide that support. Now KPU is getting ready to help unite that community again using a mentorship program between faculty and former youth in care.
“We’re gearing up to do better [for former foster kids] because tuition is a very small part [of university], and giving them a sense of belonging, a sense of support, having somebody to go [to is what KPU is focused on],” says Vail.
While obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Political Science, Anderson says that there are times that she feels isolated as a former youth in care.
“You need someone there to be interested in asking the right questions,” she says. “It might help to have support from professors.”
During the fall semester last year, Anderson was experiencing a stressful family situation. This is the sort of problem that she believes the mentorship program will be able to help former youth in care navigate while still attending class.
“Having the relief of knowing this is okay, this is just your situation and [professors] understand, that makes all the difference,” she says.
Right now, Anderson doesn’t know any of the other students who are former youth in care accessing tuition waivers at KPU. She says that getting to know them would provide her with a sense of belonging.
“If I’m talking to someone and they have a struggle I’ve faced and overcome, then I can help [them] with that,” she explains.
KPU plans on rolling out the pilot project during the fall 2019 semester.
Anderson has received an email inviting her to a meet and greet with other former youth in care at KPU, which she plans to attend.
“Seeing other people from your community succeed is empowering, enheartening, and productive,” she says.
This story was produced as part of Spotlight: Child Welfare — a collaborative journalism project that aims to deepen reporting on B.C.’s child-welfare system. It was originally published on The Runner. Tell us what you think about the story.