Program battles poverty with free post-secondary education

Vancouver Island University only institution in the country to dedicate full-time staffer to connecting poorer families to learning bond.

Vancouver Island University has a full-time employee charged with helping people access up to $2

Free money? Yeah, right.

It’s hard to overcome a reaction hammered into us by countless buyer-beware too-good-to-be-true stories, but this news is both good and true.

You can get free money — up to $2,000 — for your child’s education with no more effort than a bit of paperwork.

In fact, Vancouver Island University will do most of the work for you.

It’s called the Canada Learning Bond, and it’s a federal program that far too few people are aware of, or taking advantage of, according to Rolanda Murray.

“My experience has been that all parents dream big for their children,” the VIU CLB co-ordinator said. “They just may not know how to navigate these situations.”

You don’t have to spend any of your own money and you won’t be making any tedious long-term commitments. All you need is an application (which VIU will help you complete), a child born in 2004 or later, and a combined household income of no more than $45,000.

The child gets $500 upon registration to use toward a post-secondary education — at VIU or any institution of their choice — and $100 each subsequent year until the child reaches 15.

VIU president Ralph Nilson made VIU the only university in Canada to have a full-time person on staff dedicated to encouraging and helping people sign up. He was inspired after learning a few years ago that just 11 per cent of the eligible children in the community had registered.

“Access to education is a university value and a personal value,” Murray said. “He just decided VIU can make an impact.”

“There are an awful lot of kids in Nanaimo that live below the poverty line,” Nilson said. “We want to give them the tools to move out of poverty.”

Murray said registration numbers have since increased to 32 per cent, but that still means there are 4,200 kids in the Nanaimo postal code who qualify but have yet to apply.

“We want to get up to 75 or 80 per cent,” Nilsson said.

But it’s not just the Nanaimo area that has child poverty issues and VIU is not just committed to helping those communities where it has campuses. Murray encourages parents and community organizations from anywhere on Vancouver Island to contact her.

“I want them to know that I am available to put them through this process,” she said.

According to Murray, the main issue with the program is lack of awareness. Having the university shepherd the process can help erase any skepticism some might have for corporate or government initiatives in general.

Murray also helps families access other grants, like the B.C. Education Savings grant which offers $1,200 to kids between the ages of 6 and 9.

She said under the right circumstances a student can leverage enough to pay for his or her first year of university.

But even having just the initial $500 in the bank can inspire a different mindset.

“It changes the dynamic in the family from ‘will I go?’ to ‘where will I go and what will I be?’”

For more information, click here, or call Murray at 250-753-3245 Ext. 2712.