Nova Scotia

Dalhousie, King's College to offer free tuition to former kids in care

Dalhousie University and the University of King's College have joined two other post-secondary institutions in Halifax in offering a free tuition program for former youth in care. 

Program will begin in September 2021 for 10 Dal students, 2 King's students

The Henry Hicks Academic Administration Building at Dalhousie University is shown on Oct. 31, 2018. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Dalhousie University and the University of King's College have joined two other post-secondary institutions in Halifax to offer a free tuition program for former youth in care. 

The universities will cover all tuition and associated fees for the students — 10 at Dalhousie and two at Kings — each year, beginning this September. The program is for all former youth in care, including mature students who have been out of care for many years. 

Jacqueline Gahagan, a professor of health promotion at Dalhousie, sponsored the program and led the team that worked for about two years to put it in place. 

"That's fantastic to see that happening, and the purpose behind that, or the philosophy is really to make sure that education is accessible to all, including those who are historically absent from post-secondary education," Gahagan said in an interview Friday following the university's announcement. 

The application process and eligibility requirements for the the University of King's College program are similar to those at Dalhousie. Mount Saint Vincent University and the Nova Scotia Community College have already announced similar programs for former youth in care. 

The focus at Dalhousie and King's is on full-time undergraduate students but Gahagan, who uses they/them pronouns, said they hope to see the program expand in the future to the graduate level. 

Gahagan said historically less than 50 per cent of youth in care complete high school and go on to post-secondary, which limits the diversity of students and professors. 

Dalhousie expects the program may benefit groups like Indigenous students, Black students, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students, who Gahagan says are over-represented in the child welfare system. 

"The decisions we make today around how big and bold we want to be around the tuition waiver will necessarily have implications for generations to come," they said. "Let's go big, let's go bold, let's build from the initial 10 and let's see where we can take this." 
Jacqueline Gahagan is a professor of health promotion at Dalhousie University. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Applicants must have spent at least one year in the child welfare system, either continuously or in a total of shorter time periods. Gahagan is confident that the initial 10 positions will be filled this September. The program waives not only tuition fees, but all fees associated with going to university. 

"The cost of tuition is one, but books, housing, other supports — it's meant to be a complete package so that we don't end up losing tuition waiver recipients to things like, 'I can't afford my books,'" they said. 

Gahagan, who spent time in care in their youth, later went to university as a mature student. They said financial need was a difficult barrier. 

"Having the ability to go to university has completely changed my life. I'm a university professor. If you had asked me that when I was 14 — will you be a university professor? — I would have been like, 'I probably will not even go to university.'

"It was not on the radar for me personally and it wasn't on the radar for those homes that I lived in."

Applications for the Dalhousie and King's programs are open and will be reviewed beginning Aug. 23.