While having a post-secondary school degree is not the sole indicator of future employment, it continues to be one of the most important factors that employers look for when young people enter the workforce. In fact, the 2021-22 Ontario University Graduate Survey indicates that 54% of graduates required an undergraduate degree to work the job they were currently employed in.
However, increasing tuition is making it significantly harder for young people to access and remain in post-secondary education. Based on data from Statistics Canada, the average cost of a four-year university degree starting in 2022 is $96,004 for students in residence, or $48,074 for students living at home.
One group that is particularly affected by high tuition costs are those leaving the foster care system. Former foster children and youth receive very little support when they “age out” of the system because they are expected to be completely independent at the age of 18. As a result, the cost of a post-secondary degree is a nearly insurmountable hurdle.
The hardships that foster youth face can start early. A 2015 paper by a researcher at the Université de Montréal, found that one in three children between the ages of 10 and 17 experienced multiple relocations after their initial placement in foster care. If a child experiences several relocations due to abusive and/or traumatic situations, it is incredibly difficult for them to focus on their studies and as a result, their performance in school suffers. Upon every relocation, four to six months of academic progress are lost and it becomes harder to recover from this.
This is especially worrisome for Indigenous children and youth who, due to colonialism and discriminatory systemic practices, are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system. Census data from 2016 shows that Indigenous children aged 0 to 14 make up 7.7% of all Canadian children but represent over 52% of children in foster care in private homes. In a 2022 report, Statistics Canada found that 81% of Indigenous women who had been in the child welfare system had been physically or sexually assaulted in their life. This is the reality for many former foster children who not only struggle with financial instability but also with the overwhelming burden of past trauma.
With all that accumulating during a youth’s time in foster care, leaving the system presents various challenges that contribute to detrimental outcomes. As Jane Kovarikova writes, youth exiting the system experience “...low academic achievement; unemployment or underemployment; homelessness and housing insecurity; criminal justice system involvement; early parenthood; poor physical and mental health; and loneliness.” This lack of support means that young people leaving foster care do not have the same educational and employment opportunities as their peers.
Without the proper support system, foster children are often forced to forego post-secondary studies altogether. Out of every one thousand children in Canadian foster care, only eight will go on to graduate with a post-secondary degree. Thus, it is important to ensure that foster youth have financial assistance to facilitate their entry and retention in post-secondary. In recent years there have been efforts made to help these children gain access to post-secondary education. For example, British Columbia’s government introduced the Provincial Tuition Waiver Program, which provides financial assistance for young people leaving foster care and gives them access to free tuition at all 25 of their public post-secondary institutions. Similar pilot programs have been launched in schools across Canada, such as Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.
One foster student who was enrolled in a technician program at Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) received a tuition bursary that covered their entire tuition cost and explained that this was a massive weight off of their shoulders. They claimed that they would “have pursued the trades much sooner if tuition wasn’t such a barrier.” This is a sentiment that is shared by many former foster children and youth in care. A British Columbia study showed that children in care are 20 times less likely to enroll in post-secondary. Foster children and youth in care who do go on to pursue post-secondary school end up having a significantly higher drop-out rate compared to their same aged peers.
In an attempt to provide former foster children and youth in care with some assistance as they pursue their post-secondary education, Storwell Self Storage has launched the Foster Children Bursary Program. Storwell offers an annual bursary of $2,000 to help foster children attend post-secondary schools and to offer a hand up as they make their way forward in life. Eligibility requirements and access to the application form can be found at: https://www.storwell.com/bursary-application
Due to the litany of financial and personal struggles that most foster children and youth in care have to deal with on a daily basis, many of them are unable to access adequate educational opportunities that will help them improve their situation and allow them to create better lives for themselves. Despite the tens of thousands of children in foster care across the country, there continues to be a lack of support for this vulnerable demographic in terms of financial aid. Strengthening the support to help youth transition from the foster care system to post-secondary will ensure all willing and qualified students have access to education, and consequently, support more sustainable and successful outcomes.
 Ministry of Colleges and Universities, “2020-21 Ontario University Graduate Survey,” Government of Ontario, last modified October 19, 2022, https://www.iaccess.gov.on.ca/OsapRatesWeb/enterapp/overview.xhtml
 “How Much to Save for Education,” Knowledge First Financial, 9 Mar. 2022, https://knowledgefirstfinancial.ca/how-much-to-save-for-education/
 Marianne Lassonde, “Quebec's Child Welfare System Is Badly in Need of Repair,” The Signal, University of King's College School of Journalism, 6 July 2021, https://signalhfx.ca/quebecs-child-welfare-system-is-badly-in-need-of-repair/
 Jane Kovarikova, “Exploring Youth Outcomes After Aging-Out of Care” (Toronto, ON: Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, 2017), 9, https://ocaarchives.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/report-exploring-youth-outcomes.pdf
 Brittany Hobson, “More than Half the Children in Care Are Indigenous, Census Data Suggests | CBC News,” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 21 Sept. 2022, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/census-indigenous-children-care-1.6590075
 Kelly Geraldine Malone, “Indigenous Women More Likely to Face Violence If They Were Children in Care: Report | CBC News,” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 1 May 2022, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/indigenous-women-violence-government-care-statistics-canada-1.6437701
 Kovarikova, “Exploring Youth Outcomes After Aging-Out of Care," 4.
 Alyson Samson, and Allan April, “New Program Offers Free Post-Secondary Tuition for Former Youth in Foster Care,” Atlantic, CTV News, 8 Apr. 2021, https://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/new-program-offers-free-post-secondary-tuition-for-former-youth-in-foster-care-1.5379056
 Agrba, Liza, “Levelling the Post-Secondary Playing Field for Former Youth in Care: Maclean's Education,” Levelling the Post-Secondary Playing Field for Former Youth in Care | Maclean's Education, 21 Nov. 2022, https://education.macleans.ca/colleges-in-canada/levelling-the-post-secondary-playing-field-for-former-youth-in-care/