Examining the development, implementation, and sustainability of a tuition assistance program in a rural Canadian community

Maria Mayan, Alexa Ferdinands, Tina Watchman, Matt Ormandy, Dana Wagner, Brooks Hanewich

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review


Background and Objective: Rural, oil and gas towns in Canada face several challenges (e.g., boom-and-bust cycles, low educational attainment rates) that adversely affect economic stability, and consequently, residents’ physical, mental, and social health. In response to these challenges, one such town, Drayton Valley, introduced a tuition assistance program (up to $5000 CAD per resident) in 2019 to reduce financial barriers to select postsecondary education and training programs. While the program offers opportunities to train in fields independent of oil and gas, it also may retain residents and attract new people to the town. In partnership with the Town of Drayton Valley, along with evidence that education is one of the most important determinants of health, we aimed to examine the facilitators of and barriers to developing, implementing, and sustaining this program. Methods: This qualitative study was underpinned by principles of community-based participatory research. Between August 2021 and June 2022, we conducted 11 interviews with stakeholders (elected officials, local administration, postsecondary institution representatives) and participated in 5 group stakeholder consultations, facilitated by a community economic development consultant. Interview transcripts and fieldnotes were analyzed using qualitative content analysis. Results: We developed five categories which speak to the facilitators and barriers of developing, implementing, and sustaining Drayton Valley’s tuition assistance program: 1) lack of a unified vision and goals; 2) unique context of postsecondary education and training in Drayton Valley; 3) innovative champions of education; 4) stakeholder collaborations and multisectoral partnerships; and 5) establishing community buy-in. In this presentation, we will summarize recommendations for capitalizing on facilitators and addressing barriers as the town moves forward with this program. Conclusions: This study contributes to the limited knowledge on tuition assistance programs in Canada. Findings may have implications for other rural communities interested in using tuition assistance programs as innovative tools for promoting health equity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA682
JournalPopulation Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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