By Ryan Leclaire from Study Magazine website, March 22, 2012
The University of Winnipeg is offering free tuition, to break down the barriers between education and underprivileged youth in Manitoba.
“Removing the tuition hurdle dissolves an important barrier, but more importantly, it says to this group of young people who have faced so many challenges that their dreams matter, that they are welcome and they belong here,” said UWinnipeg President Lloyd Axworthy.
The Youth In Care Tuition Waiver program is being heralded as a first of its kind in Canada, and the university is offering free tuition to students who’ve recently been in the care of a child welfare agency.
“We have a very deep commitment to addressing the needs of youth who are underrepresented in university classrooms, and we know that children and youth in care face multiple barriers that keep them from pursuing post-secondary learning, including financial hurdles,” said Axworthy.
The program will help people like Shirley Delorme Russell who was place in roster care, along with her four siblings. She changed homes three times and stopped going to school after graduating from Kelvin High School.
“I had no money. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I was not really sure what student loans were and the thought of them and getting into debt terrified me,” said Russell.
“It is awkward for a child in care because you can feel you are not really anyone’s kid. So at 18 I went out to work.”
The university hopes to help 10 students each year with the program, beginning next September.
This announcement is nothing short of historic! And we commend the University of Winnipeg, and its President, Lloyd Axworthy, for making this important decision.
It will, we hope, prompt other universities in Canada and elsewhere, to make similar decisions. We all know that intelligence and capability are not restricted to those whose early narratives speak of extreme hardship. We also know that universities have been increasingly becoming "gated" communities for the more affluent. This decision will not only change the lives of those 10 students forever; it will also change the culture of the University of Winnipeg forever.
By making this decision, the university will tell the world at least some of the things it stands for, and will thereby attract students who consider these values worthy of their exploration. It will send a message to graduate students about the culture of the university, deliberatately dedicated to serving the community through the attention paid to those who would otherwise never have this opportunity.
Just yesterday, thousands of students marched through the streets of Montreal in protest of tuition hikes by the Province of Quebec, although their tuition fees are among the lowest in the country.
We cannot afford to permit a financial moat to be "constructed" around our universities, if we hope to generate a culture that is both informed and compassionate, for our children and grandchildren.