For many students, savings and loans are used to fund a post-secondary education.
In Drayton Valley, the town is helping to ease the debt burden faced by future health providers by picking up the tuition tab for some post-secondary students taking health-care aide (HCA) training in the community.
According to Drayton Valley town councillor, Nancy Dodds, the inspiration for zero-fee tuition came from a successful program taking place halfway around the world.
“There’s a small community called Invercargill in New Zealand, and they actually started [a] zero-fee concept, [because] they were facing similar economic downturn as we are,” explained Dodd, noting the town’s chief administrative officer had ties to the area where the concept originated.
“[Invercargill was] faced with back-to-back recessions and their council thought, ‘what can we do to boost our economy?’” she added. “Seeing that [model’s success] over there, we thought let’s try it here and see how it goes.”
Open to all Canadian residents and offered through the town’s educational partner NorQuest College, the Zero Fee Tuition Program funded by the town is applied to the base tuition fee for each student taking the two-term Health-care Aide (HCA) Program, which works out to $5,292 per student (capped at 12 students).
Classes began on January 6 for 18 domestic students taking courses in both the HCA Program, and Business Administration, which is also covered by the Zero Fee Tuition Program.
As Drayton Valley councillor, Amila Gammana, explains, the construction of a new Level 4 seniors’ facility in Drayton Valley made aligning zero-fee tuition with the HCA Program ideal as, when this facility opens, there will be new opportunities for HCAs in the community.
It was a godsend. I couldn’t ask for something better. I’m on a very tight budget myself, so when I found out about it … it was amazing.
– Tiffany Ward
“The reason we opted to offer [the HCA] Program in our community was because of the opportunities this field has,” he says. “We have a country where the older population is getting [larger], so there are more opportunities being created.”
“With the program up and running, we can have more trained workers and a [clear path] from the program to potential [careers],” Gammana continues.
For students, this investment is one that has a great impact on their personal lives, helping them to achieve their goals and focus on their education with less stress about the financial constraints that can come with post-secondary education.
“It was exciting,” says Tiffany Ward, a Drayton Valley resident who didn’t learn of the zero-fee initiative until looking into the HCA program. “It was a godsend. I couldn’t ask for something better. I’m on a very tight budget myself, so when I found out about it … it was amazing.”
“I have an aunt who’s a health-care aide in Nova Scotia, and she was telling me about it [as a career],” shares Trinity Allan, another student from Drayton Valley. “So, when I found out it was zero tuition, I decided to sign up, because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. It has definitely helped me with that [financial stress].”
HCA student, Sanita Mayr, says she has been working toward her goal of helping the community for some time, and that the zero-fee initiative is helping her succeed.
“I’ve wanted to work in the community with the elderly forever,” says Mayr, who is from Warburg, about 50 km east of Drayton Valley. “I’ve been working towards this for six years. That’s why I signed up, because [the opportunity] just came up, so I grabbed it.”
They love and care for the community and they have a deeper understanding of what it means to live and work in a small [town]. As a result, people usually stay and work in the area.
– Mike Reeves
“Usually people that take a program like the HCA Program in Drayton Valley have a connection to [that] community,” says Mike Reeves, a media relations consultant with NorQuest College.
“They love and care for the community and they have a deeper understanding of what it means to live and work in a small [town]. As a result, people usually stay and work in the area.”
According to Dodds, the town is hoping to make Drayton Valley a centre for education, similar to other communities such as Red Deer and Olds. The goal is one that council believes will not only bring people into the community, but also help address the needs of area businesses and residents.
“We want to create jobs; we want to create growth; we want to help retrain residents of our community and attract [new ones],” explains Dodds on the town’s investment in education.
Due to the positive response Drayton Valley has received regarding this initiative, the town plans to run its second round of the Zero Fee Tuition Program starting in January 2021.
The town will be surveying local high schools, as well as holding information sessions starting in March 2020, to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the community.
To learn more about the initiative, visit www.draytonvalley.ca/zero-fee-tuition-program
– Lesley Allan