Ontario is expanding funding to help former Crown wards and youth in care earn a postsecondary education, promising free tuition and help with living expenses at any of the province's universities or one of several colleges.
Under new and expanded partnerships, students who have been under the legal care of the province and are eligible for student aid can have up to $6,000 in tuition fees covered for each of four years, and also receive $500 monthly to help with living expenses. This support will now be available until age 24, having previously stopped at 21, and about 850 students are expected to qualify, starting in September.
Similar programs were piloted at eight universities and three colleges last year in an effort to lower some of the special barriers that have often seen these students struggle in school. But all of Ontario's 21 universities are now on board, sharing half the cost of each student's tuition, while eight of the province's 24 colleges have also signed on.
"I sincerely hope that next year, all of our public colleges will join us," said Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities for Ontario, at an announcement Tuesday.
Vera Williams, 25, is now a student at the University of Toronto's Woodsworth College and a member of the province's Youth Leaving Care Working Group, but she remembers how hard she found it paying for school after she left care. Once she turned 21, the financial supports and connections with agencies ended, and she dropped out of university in her second year feeling it had grown too expensive, even as she worked retail jobs to pay her way.
Had the new, expanded supports been in place at the time, "I wouldn't have had to drop out, for sure," said Ms. Williams, who has since re-enrolled.
Similar supports for youth leaving care have already been set up elsewhere in Canada. Last fall, the University of Winnipeg waived tuition fees for 25 students who had grown up in the child welfare system.
Ontario currently has about 8,300 crown wards. But only 44 per cent of the province's youth in care graduate from high school, compared with 82 per cent of Ontario youth as a whole.