The ever-escalating cost of college tuition has hit every college eligible student in the country. What was once an affordable opportunity and education has now become an almost extravagant luxury. However, no one has been hit harder than those who already have had to overcome innumerable obstacles: foster youth.
College tuition has steadily increased across the country every year at a rate way outpacing inflation since 1978. The rising expenses of education have put families in a financial chokehold, causing many students to mortgage their futures by taking on large amounts of debt in the form of student loans.
This trend has especially hurt youth from foster, adoptive and kinship backgrounds. While it’s commonly believed that, because of their past, these youths will be eligible for a nearly full-ride to college, that expectation is wrong, according to Foster and Adoptive Family Services’ Director of Scholarship Programs Millicent Barry.
“No one should expect a free ride,” Barry said.
The Rising Cost of College for Foster Kids: The Reality
Barry oversees the New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholars Program, an educational assistance plan that helps eligible foster and homeless youth receive financial help with tuition and fees at a public colleges, universities or vocational schools.
“Our students tell us, tuition is going up every year,” Barry said. “But, they say, my grants aren’t going up with it. That’s the new norm now.”
In 1980, the maximum Pell Grant award covered 77 percent of the cost of attending a four-year public university. That number had fallen to 36 percent by 2011, according to the Education Trust.
What hasn’t fallen is the price of tuition, especially at New Jersey colleges.
Rutgers University raised tuition 2.3 percent for the 2014-15 school year, after raising tuition and fees 3.3 percent the year before. That’s another $300 or more for the average Rutgers undergraduate, according to NJ.com.
Meanwhile the maximum Pell Grant award rose from $5,645 in the 2013-14 school year to $5,735 for 2014-15. You don’t need to be a math major to see that the grant is not keeping pace with tuition increases.
“There’s definitely a concern among foster, adoptive and kinship parents of how are they going to pay for this,” Barry said. “Grandparents, kinship providers, are worried. They are on a fixed income.”
The Rising Cost of College for Foster Kids: Where to Find Help
However, all hope isn’t lost. While college is unlikely to be free, even for foster, adoptive and kinship youth, that doesn’t mean financial aid isn’t available.
“It is hard work, but we urge people to research and ask financial aid officers if they are aware of any financial opportunities,” Barry said. “There is money out there; it’s simply a matter of finding it.”
Eligible foster, adoptive and kinship students are urged to apply for NJFC Scholars Program which utilizes funding from the Federal Education Training Voucher and the State Tuition Waiver. However, eligibility requirements are strict.
The Rising Cost of College for Foster Kids: Educational Opportunity Fund
Barry also urges students to look at each college’s Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program. 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 received at 41 of the state’s community colleges and public and private four-year schools as long as eligibility requirements are met.
“We absolutely are all for this,” Barry said.
Foster care students should be careful to check EOF eligibility at their different prospective institutions as they may have to apply specifically as EOF students, Barry said. If they apply to regular admissions and decide later they want to be part of the EOF program and receive financial assistance, they may have to pull their general admissions slot and reapply to the school all over again. This can be problematic as space in not only each college’s individual EOF program but also their general admission is limited.
With tuition rising at universities in New Jersey and across the country, foster, adoptive and kinship youth will join the rest of college students and graduate with a fair amount of student debt.
“The first year will most likely be the most expensive,” Barry said. “Once you prove yourself academically, there may be more options financially in future terms.”
However, the days of relying on full-ride scholarships – regardless of the situation – are mostly a thing of the past.