Dalhousie University: As tuition waiver programs multiply, study seeks input on effectiveness

A team of researchers in Atlantic Canada is examining the impact of tuition waiver programs for youth who have spent time in foster care.

The project, led by researchers at Dalhousie and Mount Saint Vincent University, which both offer the waivers, will be based on interviews with current and past participants in Atlantic Canadian university and college tuition waiver programs. People will be asked which elements of the programs are effective and which could be improved.

“Talking to people who received tuition waivers is essential because they can tell us what’s working and what’s not. Evaluating tuition waiver programs as we go will help all the partner organizations improve program design and delivery,” says co-investigator Margaret Robinson, the Canada Research Chair in Reconciliation, Gender and Identity and an assistant professor in Dal’s departments of English and Sociology and Social Anthropology.

The team was awarded funding from Research Nova Scotia to support a collaborative evaluation of tuition waiver programs. Anyone who has received a waiver at an Atlantic Canadian institution and would like to participate is encouraged to contact Jasmine Tang.

Related reading: Dal launches new tuition waiver program for former youth in care

Moving toward equity in access

There is a growing national interest in understanding how interventions, such as tuition waiver programs, can reduce structural barriers experienced by former youth in care in accessing post-secondary education.

More institutions are offering such programs across Canada, yet there is little data on how tuition waivers in Nova Scotia are affecting recipients. This project will involve partners at multiple Atlantic post-secondary institutions, government departments and community agencies from across the Atlantic provinces.

“I’m excited to be involved in the tuition waiver project,” says Dr. Robinson. “Indigenous youth are over-represented in care, as are sexual and gender minority youth. Those groups jump so many hurdles to make their educational dreams a reality. Tuition waivers are one way we can move toward equity in access to education.”

Dalhousie launched its program last year and offered waivers to 10 former youth in care for undergraduate studies at the university, enabling them to attend the school free of tuition charges.

The program also provides tailored institutional supports, such as advising and counselling, as part of a holistic approach to minimizing systemic barriers that disproportionately affect youth with a past in care.

“Tuition waivers are a good start, but former youth in case may need other supports as well,” Dr. Robinson said.

Identifying potential improvements

It’s estimated there are more than 50,000 children in foster care in Canada, with many experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage due to poverty, racism, sexism and legacies of colonialism.

“This research offers a unique opportunity to determine how tuition waiver programs in the Atlantic region are meeting the needs of recipients,” said study lead Dr. Jacquie Gahagan, Associate Vice-President of Research at Mount Saint Vincent University.

“It’s an opportunity to identify potential program improvements toward further addressing barriers to post-secondary education among former youth in care.”

There is no age limit for the program and applicants must have spent at least one year in care to be eligible. Individuals awarded a spot in the program can pursue a certificate, diploma or degree program at the undergraduate level.