THUNDER BAY — The expansion of a free tuition program for nursing, paramedic, and lab technologist students who pledge to work in the region after graduation could make a meaningful difference, says the dean of Confederation College’s school of health.
Shane Strickland, dean of the college’s school of health, said the grant program isn’t just good news for students in those fields, who stand to save thousands.
The grants also have the potential to help address the region’s health care staffing shortages by connecting more students with regional employers, and even boosting enrolment in the programs.
“This is really exciting for Northwestern Ontario in that it will remove barriers for finances for students to participate, but it will also ensure our partners across the region get a return of service,” he said.
The provincial government introduced the Learn and Stay program for nursing students last year, and had taken a similar approach before with other professions like personal support workers, Strickland noted.
The government announced last week it would expand the program to cover graduates of paramedic programs in Northern Ontario, and of medical technologist programs in Northern and Southwestern Ontario.
The program will fully cover tuition and other compulsory fees like books, equipment, and uniforms for eligible students who commit to remain in the region to work in their field of study.
At Confederation College, the grants will be available for eligible students in the practical nursing and paramedicine programs, as well as the schools’ new standalone Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) program.
Recipients will be expected to commit to six months of service to a regional employer for every year of study covered by the grants, working out to a term of up to two years for students in the four-year BScN program, for example.
Students must be Ontario residents and either Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or protected persons to qualify.
The funding is converted to a repayable loan if conditions like completing the work term are not met.
While the college’s nursing and paramedic programs tend to fill up quickly already, Strickland believes the new financial supports “will have a positive effect” on enrolment by removing financial barriers.
“Our health programs tend to be very popular, and have been over-subscribed in past years,” he said. “It depends on enrolment in that particular year, [but] we’re very confident in being able to make sure we fill all of our seats.”
“The Learn and Stay grant is certainly going to help make sure we have the student body we need for a healthy graduating body for each of those programs.”
The college expects to accept 88 students in practical nursing, 50 in the BScN program, and 40 in paramedicine in the fall of 2023.
That represents an additional 10 paramedic students, while the move to offer the BScN program independently from Lakehead University this year will result in an expansion of 15 spots between the two schools.
Learn and Stay grant applications for the 2023-24 academic year will open in the spring, the government says. More information is available online, and Strickland said Confederation College students can also get assistance from the school’s financial aid office.
The province says it has committed $61 million over three years to support the Learn and Stay program.