Making the Grade: Foster Youth and College

Without dramatic changes and a structured approach, the college graduation rate for students who have lived in foster care will remain one of the lowest in the country at 3 percent, according to a recently released study from the University of the Pacific.

foster youth and college

The study examined seven foster youth’s experiences over a nearly three semester journey through a California community college. It concluded that there was an extreme lack of guidance for foster youth, a problem given that many youths in care are dependent on structured institutional programs.

“Simply having a dedicated person whom foster youth can go to and ask questions — something many of these young people have never had — could really make a difference to their college success,” said study co-author Melinda Westland.

Foster Youth and College: NJFC and Project MYSELF

While the issue of guidance may be a problem nationally for youth who have lived in foster care, New Jersey does provide places for these youths to go and get answers. The New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholars Program provides financial and educational assistance for eligible youth while also supplying a supportive coaching relationship through Project MYSELF.

Project MYSELF, a direct-service program run through Rutgers School of Social Work, is designed to help young adults aging out of the New Jersey foster care system improve their academic performance, complete post-secondary education and develop essential life skills and competencies.

The program provides every NJFC Scholar with a “Support Coach” who is available to help with academic issues, emotional resiliency, job-readiness and physical wellness.

While the report stated that the lack of guidance was a driving factor in the dismal college graduation rate for students who have lived in foster care, it wasn’t the only reason given. Financial struggles, computer illiteracy and a lack of understanding of the transfer process from a community college also contribute to the low graduation rate, according to the report.

Foster Youth and College: Financial Help

Money is a common concern.

According to the report, most parents provide an average of $2,200 a year to children up to age 34. Former foster youth very often can’t turn to family for financial backing. Instead, these youth have to navigate a complex financial aid system, many times alone, in hope of finding help.

However, there is help available in New Jersey.

NJFC Scholarship Associates help answer any questions eligible students may have regarding financial aid while guiding them to helpful resources. Since the NJFC Scholars Program’s inception in 2003, more than 275 scholars have confirmed their degree or certificate at accredited colleges, universities and trade/career schools.

Another helpful resource for students who have lived in foster care is the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF). The New Jersey EOF provides financial assistance and support services to students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds who attend college in the state. Grants range from $200 annually to $2,500 annually and can be used at 41 of the state’s community colleges and public and private four-year schools as long as eligibility requirements are met.

Foster Youth and College: Streamlining the Transfer Process

While financial assistance is vital to increasing the graduation rate, it’s also important for former foster youth to understand how the different processes of the educational system work, including how to transfer from community college.

“These things can be overwhelming,” said Foster and Adoptive Family Services’ Director of Scholarship Millicent Barry. “Any way students can streamline the process, the better the result.”

Barry points to a recent trend of local community colleges partnering with larger state schools as an example of streamlining the transfer process for students.

In January 2014, Rowan University partnered with Gloucester County College transforming the school to Rowan College at Gloucester County.

What this agreement means for students who attend the community college is that they will be able to pursue a bachelor’s degree in participating fields at Rowan University without having to formally apply, as long as they sign a non-binding letter of intent stating their intention to transfer to the university following their time at community college.

Rowan University has since partnered with Burlington County College to provide a similar agreement while Rutgers University and Camden County College have also struck a comparable deal.

Creating an easier transfer process could go a long in increasing the graduation rate for students who have been in foster care. According to the study, the foster youth saw “earning a four-year degree as a pathway to future stability,” but weren’t aware of how to handle the process.

Agreements such as these, as well as financial and education supports, could make the pathway to future stability a lot clearer for students who have lived in foster care.

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