Almost 25,000 youth age out of foster care each year, most with the goal of attending college. However, nearly 80 percent of these young adults don’t even enroll and those that do rarely graduate. That’s why states across the country are investing in educational supports to give these young men and women a chance at attaining their educational goals despite financial barriers.
The national nonprofit Foster Care to Success, in their January 2014 publication Fostering Success in Education: National Factsheet on the Educational Outcomes of Children in Foster Care, stated that 84 percent of foster youth ages 17-18 want to attend college, yet only 20 percent manage to do so, and of those, only 3 percent of those graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
This alarming problem starts well before college admissions.
As we previously discussed in an earlier newsletter, 30-50 percent of youth exit the foster care system without a high school diploma or high school equivalent, according to the Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest operating foundation on foster care issues. Meanwhile, only 30.7 percent of children who grow up in foster care graduate from high school.
That’s why policymakers at state and federal levels are dedicating resources to programs aimed at helping foster youth find educational stability.
On December 10th 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requiring school districts and child welfare agencies to work together to ensure stable educational experiences for students in the foster care system. One of the chief provisions of ESSA required that a child in foster care remain in his or her school of origin unless it’s deemed not in his or her best interest.
The law, which built upon the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, further recognized the importance in school stability to improving high school and college graduation rates.
Minimizing the amount of times a child in care has to switch schools will, according to supporters, increase his or her ability to graduate high school and attend college. However, critics argue that this isn’t enough.
“I wasn’t prepared for college. I didn’t have parents or anyone to look up to or help me with my college experience,” said Alexis Barries, a former foster youth who lives in Stockton, California, where she now attends San Joaquin Delta College. “I completely fell down.”
The issue, foster youth advocates say, isn’t simply a matter of getting youth to college. It’s supporting these youth while they are there. That’s why some states are stepping up their efforts.
“In October (of last year), California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a program providing additional support services for foster youth in community colleges, including assigning a counselor to entering students,” according to Pew Charitable Trusts. “New York will spend $4.5 million to help foster youth with tuition, books and living expenses, up from $3 million last year. And in September (of last year), four Pennsylvania universities launched a public-private partnership to recruit foster youth who want to go to college and support them with year-round campus housing, food pantries, counseling and school supplies.
In New Jersey, Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) offers a litany of services to support foster youth with their education. First, the New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholars Program assists students in covering tuition and other costs associated with secondary education. The program, which is offered to eligible youth in foster care and those who have aged out of the system, also helps finds gap housing for these students to ensure they don’t become homeless during school breaks.
On top of this, FAFS offers additional help. Established with an initial grant from the Dreams R Us Foundation, FAFS’ Educational Supports program targets New Jersey Foster Care Scholar youth who have a history of homelessness, and who are not eligible for specific supports through other state and federal programs.
Although these students are able to receive assistance towards tuition and fees at their post-secondary institution, the cost of room and board, books, supplies and living expenses often impede their educational attainment.
“Our educational support requests program is so importance because it provides additional items needed for school, beyond tuition, that are pivotal to academic success,” FAFS’ Director of Scholarship Programs Marjorie Blicharz said. “Laptops, tablets and books are necessary in today’s world for note taking, paper writing and other projects.”
Those aren’t the only things necessary for educational success for foster youth.
“Specific to this population, there is a need for food and transportation,” Blicharz said. “Sometimes these items are taken for granted in school due to meal plans and on-campus living. However, this population does not have access to funding or to the supports directly.”
FAFS’ Educational Supports program aims to lessen the financial burden for these NJFC Scholars by providing them with transportation assistance, food cards, equipment such as computers or supplies and other requests that support the adolescent towards their academic success.
“This program provides students with access, opportunities and tangible items to help them succeed in their academic pursuits,” Blicharz said.
To learn more about FAFS’ educational programs, click here.
To learn more about ESSA and other nationwide programs, click here.