Friday, August 11, 2006

Foster Youth and College

Here is a link to my article about educational vouchers for Arizona foster children:

Educational challenges for foster youth to overcome:
- 65% of foster children experience seven or more school K-12 changes.
- There is often a lack of (biological) parental support.
- Many foster youth do not attend high schools with college preparatory curriculum.
- 37% of foster youth drop out of high school, as opposed to 16% of nonfoster youth.
- Many earn their GED, rather than a diploma.

Foster teens often perceive college as unaffordable. They may lack the skills (or patience) necessary to fill out a FAFSA form online.

Due to the myriad of disadvantages, it should not be surprising that, although 70% of foster teenagers express interest in attending college, only 10% of traditionally college-aged foster youth access post-secondary education. What this means is that roughly 100,000 college qualified foster youth are missing out on opportunity to attend.

Programs that support college access by foster youth:
- Chaffee Independence program
- Chaffee Education & Training Voucher
- Statewide and independently-based programs (Guardian Scholars Program at CSU, Governor’s Scholarship Program in Washington

Facts about foster alumni who go to college:
- Foster youth represent less than 1% of undergraduates.

-The majority of foster youth undergraduates are female .
- Foster youth have substantially lower incomes than non-foster students.

Despite their disadvantages, foster youth are just as likely to attend 4-year colleges, are as likely to attend full-time and their college costs are nearly identical.

However, foster alumni are more likely to drop out of college. (53% of foster vs. 31% nonfoster college students dropped out in 2001).

Two suggestions to improve the situation:
1.) Housing: Residence halls need to open year-round. States can provide former foster care youths, ages 18, 19, and 20, with financial, housing, counseling, employment and education. However, there is a federal requirement that no more than 30% of a state’s allotment of funds may be used to provide room and board.

2.) Programs like GEAR UP and TRIO should target foster youth. Foster youth in high school need mentoring and guidance.

Davis, Ryan K. Research and Policy Associate. National Association of Student Aid Administrators 2006 Retention Conference.

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I wish my state offered free college to foster/former foster children. That is truly a program that would make a difference.
My adopteds are from TX, and TX offers free college tuition to adopteds who qualify for Title IV-E as mine do. However, my 18yo is attempting to live in Neverland and not face the fact that after this, his senior year, he will have to make some decisions. No job, no driver's license, SAT scores and grades won't even get him admitted to college, refused to study more to retake the SAT this summer... He's capable of A's and B's, but I think he's scared to death of growing up, being on his own, etc., and associates those concepts with his earlier losses - even though we adopted him and his siblings > 7 years ago
As a ex-foster child with a college degree.. let me chime in.
When I was 16 I learned that there was a program to get drop out High School kids back into school and get a diploma. It allowed them to go to college, with state paying 100% if they got credits that mirrored the missing high school classes. In this way many people came out of high school with both a high school diploma and a 2 year college degree. Alas I was not ready for college yet at the time as I was still battling the trauma and anger of being institutionalized for all that time and picked the wrong subjects. I used college to heal myself, not to learn. Later on, though, I agree, with no money and no support system I had to put myself though college via a collection of starvation and food-stamps. I didn’t even qualify for any financial assistance because, at 18, I refused on moral and ethical grounds to register for selective service. But I have a degree now and a good job so I am a testament that if you want it bad enough you can have it.

Anyway my point was do similar programs still exist in states (this was the early 80s for me after all) and if so I assume perhaps High School foster children could use it to there advantage. Once they have a few college credits under there belt it may help them get the funding for more. For me it was a great help to excite and motivate an unmotivated kid, since college had real challenges and places to go, where high school bored me with the plastic society it created.

The site FYI3 has very helpful information about what scholarships and tuition assistance are available in which states:

Just go to the section on the left labeled "Find a Resource" and scroll down to your state.

But, please don't assume that if you don't see tuition assistance there, that it is not available.

The state where I grew up has nothing listed, and yet my entire college was paid for by college grants (thank you, Pell Grant) and graduate school loans (thank you, Stafford).

The problem, as I see it, is in giving up before you start.
My former foster brother, best man at my wedding and best friend was also my college roomie for several years. He mostly skated through college financially on grants of various stripes...he certainly came out of it in better financial shape than I did, plus he had two cars, a bunch of furniture and other stuff.

Of course, that was the late 80s/early 90s, and things have probably changed since then, but it seemed to me at the time that the main problem was to motivate the kids to actually get to college and to actually try once they got there.

Out of the 120+ kids my parents fostered, my best friend was the only one I can think of that ended up with a college degree...and he's one of maybe three that actually ever set foot on a campus as a student.

Some of the girls, of course, set foot on campus as something other than students, but that's whole blog post (at least) of its own.

First of all, thank you for your patience with Josie. Your dedication to her, as evidenced by your blog, is very much appreciated (by me, at least). It can't be easy.

Secondly, it's weird because in your post, you sound a little jealous of your foster brother.

We each view life through the viewfinder of our own experiences.

I just want to assure you that it's not easy for foster alumni when it comes to college.

From my experience, I wanted to go to college, and grad school. No one else had to pressure me or coerce me or talk me into it.

I loved learning, and school was the most sane and consistent part of my foster care experience.

Even when I struggled in college -- I was homeless for two weeks after a bad roommate situation -- I never even considered dropping out of college. I continued to attend classes every day.

I just want to assure you that I didn't leave college & grad school with two cars.

I left with thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt (which I am still paying off).

I bought my first car after I finished grad school, and it took me three or four years to pay it off.

So, I gotta admit, I'm curious as to what those other foster girls you refer to in your posting were doing in college if not attending college.

I will concede that many of us ("us" being former foster children) don't make it into higher ed, for a myriad of reasons.

But I attended classes, and so did my friend 'Bobby.' Although, he had to join the military in order to cover his tuition.

I look forward to continuing this dialogue with you, and thank you for posting,

Hi, Lisa. Don't mean to bring this up but:
"They may lack the skills (or patience) necessary to fill out a FAFSA form online."
If this is true, if an individual (foster child or not) doesn't have what it takes to fill out a FAFSA form online, then how will they make it through four years of college?
It's not so bad anymore to get a GED rather than a high school diploma.
People do what's best for them for where they are in life and what they know at the time.
Foster kid or not.

It helps to get feedback from other people. Thank you!

About the GED, I apologize if my post made it sound like it was a bad thing. It's just statistically more common for foster youth to get their GED vs. diploma, and with that one young man who kept being pushed to the higher grade, it will soon be his only option.

About FAFSA online... I see your point. Obviously, college requires a person to be web-savvy nowadays.

I guess I was seeing it through the grid of my experience which was:

-Intellectually, I could handle all the academic stuff.

-Emotionally, there were times I felt discouraged.

As a librarian, I often see young people in the inner city give up in the middle of filling out online FAFSA forms. The process can be frustrating. Often they return the next day with renewed resolve.

So... please keep giving me your valuable feedback, Danielle (and others). I don't want to be writing this blog in a vacuum.

Your insights and comments really help me to work through my stance on various issues,

You're welcome, Lisa.
When I was in high school, I filled out the FAFSA, but not online. I used a pen. :-)
For a student in the situation that you mentioned, I would suggest filling it out the old fashioned way, and taking a very basic computer course. If they have their GED, all is not lost even with college. They can go to a community college like mine, and bring their grades up.
Then, they can go to a University for their last two years, if that's what they want.
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