Holland College pilot project offers free tuition to former, current youths in care

Holland College is launching a new pilot project to help people who are, or were, a youth in care.

Child and youth advocate applauds move

Holland College president Sandy MacDonald says he expects up to 10 people to enrol in the pilot project. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Holland College is launching a new pilot project to help people who are, or were, a youth in care.

The college will waive tuition and fees for prospective students who qualify, and if they don't meet the qualifications for their chosen program, they can access the college's adult education or GED programs to get those qualifications.

To qualify for the pilot project, the student would need to have been in care for at least 24 months as a minor and must be a resident of P.E.I. There is no age limit.

Holland College president Sandy MacDonald used to work with at-risk youth, and said some children in care sometimes have a difficult time transitioning to adulthood.

"They drop out of school in greater numbers. They don't maximize their potential academically," he said. 

"So we thought that we were uniquely situated here at the college to help them with those transitions."

MacDonald said he expects up to 10 people to enrol in the pilot project.

"Our primary mandate and the reason our students come here is to find work and they want to find meaningful employment as soon after the graduation as possible," MacDonald said.

"And we know that the way the labour market is in P.E.I. these days, that there will be opportunities for people on graduation."

'Community leadership'

The program would be the first of its kind in the province, but not for the region. 

In Nova Scotia, Mount Saint Vincent University and the Nova Scotia Community College have recently announced programs to cover tuition for former youth in care, as has Memorial University in Newfoundland.

"We have seen this take hold in other jurisdictions and we didn't want the young people in this province to be left behind," said P.E.I. Child and Youth Advocate Marvin Bernstein, who called the announcement "good news."

"It's part of community leadership to step up to the plate and provide this kind of opportunity. Young people who've been in care and have gone through certain levels of adversity or disruptions in terms of their stability and life experience, through no fault of their own.… Can we give them a break? Can we give them an opportunity?"

Bernstein said that from the perspective of equity and fairness, youth in care should have the same opportunities as their peers.

Marvin Bernstein was sworn in as P.E.I.'s first child and youth advocate in July 2020. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

"History has shown us that, generally speaking, young people who've been in care don't access post-secondary education to the same degree. There's a lower percentage and they have poorer life outcomes. So this can change their life trajectory dramatically," he said.

"They should have the right to pursue higher education, to reach their full potential, and when we encourage that kind of approach, society benefits because then we have contributing members of society."

Bernstein said he'd also like to see UPEI follow suit.

"It's kind of laying down the marker and perhaps challenging the other post-secondary institutions, UPEI, to do likewise, and then we will have more opportunities and more benefits, because right now with one institution, you've got a limited number of spaces," he said.

"Can we open up other opportunities and other institutions?"

Officials with the province said P.E.I. currently has 94 youth in care, six of which are graduating from high school this year.

More from CBC News

With files from Travis Kingdon and Nicola MacLeod