For more than a year, youth in government care have had the option of attending UNBC for free - but only one student has taken advantage of the opportunity.
UNBC's Youth in Care Tuition Waiver, which covers the full tuition of a first undergraduate degree or certificate for young people who have spent time as a youth in care, was established at the start of the 2014-15 academic year.
It's meant to level the playing field for the youth, who face more barriers in life than most, according to Glen Schmidt, professor of social work at UNBC.
"Studies in B.C. have consistently shown that the numbers of youth in care who go on to post-secondary education... (are) extremely low," he said.
Youth remain in care until age of 19, and beyond that, outside of a handful of support programs, they're on their own.
"If you think about a typical 19-year-old, they'll continue to receive parental support if they're going to college and university. In the case of youth in care, they can't stay in their foster home any longer, or at least they're not funded to stay in their foster home any longer," said Schmidt.
"That creates some significant challenges around achieving some success with college or university."
Although just one person has received the award thus far, more potential students are catching on to the opportunity, according to Linda Fehr, co-ordinator of awards and financial aid at UNBC.
"I have sent several prospective students the application information for the waiver and have received several inquiries from youth care workers requesting information as well," Fehr said in an email. "I would expect that we will have more recipients in 2016/2017."
The university decided to implement the tuition waiver after Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, challenged all post-secondary institutions in the province to waive tuition for youth in care in 2013.
Her report indicated that universities and colleges add to the barriers youth in care face with tuition fees, and if institutions were able to remove the fees, the youth would have a better shot at succeeding down the road.
Vancouver Island University was the first on board, and since then a handful of others have followed suit.
UNBC took up the initiative after Schmidt proposed the idea to the university's fees committee, and made a presentation that was well received.
"I began my career in social work in child welfare, and saw how difficult it was for kids who came through the child welfare system to move on once they aged out of care," Schmidt said.
"I certainly was aware of the poor outcomes in British Columbia here, and so I just felt very strongly that this is something that we should do as a university, to give these individuals more opportunity."
According to Schmidt, fewer than 25 per cent of youth in government care complete high school and receive their Dogwood Diploma.