Sunday, September 03, 2006

How can foster alumni pay for college?

What is ETV Funding?
Federal Chafee education and training vouchers provide financial assistance to youth who have aged out of foster care and are seeking additional educational opportunities. These funds can be spent at both college and technical schools.

How do students qualify?
- Must have aged out of foster care
- Must be enrolled in an accredited institution
- Must maintain at least at 2.0 GPA

What can these funds be spent on?
- Tuition at college/technical schools
- Rent and other living expenses
- School supplies, including textbooks and a computer
- Health care and child care

Where does OFA fit in?
Social workers and their departments are not set up to administer scholarship programs to emancipated youth.

Therefore, the Orphan Foundation of America works with several states to administer their ETV program and to ensure that foster alumni receive ETV assistance in accordance with federal law.

The following states have empowered OFA to administer ETV assistance: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, New York, North Carolina and Ohio.

In a recent survey, 92% of students gave high marks to the help they received from OFA.

Challenges that foster youth face in college:
1.) Financial pressures: As well as college, foster alumni need to be able to afford to pay for their rent, transportation and basic living expenses (electric, phone). If they have children, they need to be able to afford child care.

2.) Work conflicting with school: In the recent OFA survey, over 20% of participants reported that their class hours were inconvenient.

3.) Need for academic support: When asked how often they met with their academic advisors, two out of five students (40%) reported that they rarely or never met with their academic advisor. Nearly one quarter (27%) reported that they received poor or no academic advising.

4.) Social isolation: One in ten foster youth reported in the OFA Spring survey that they did not have an opportunity to become involved with other students. Nearly a fifth reported that there were few people with interests and backgrounds like their own.

23% of foster alumni reported feeling lonely, and stated that those feelings of loneliness were having a negative impact on school performance.

What helps foster youth to succeed in college?
1.) Healthy social relationships: Speaking from personal experience, I know that I found the family I never had through my involvement with campus organizations.

Therefore, I was not surprised to learn from the survey results that between 45-55% participated in campus organizations. Students reported serving meals, tutoring and mentoring. They participated in dramatic productions or athletic teams. One student taugh English as a second language.

2.) A sense of direction: 42% of foster youth reported that they needed additional support in navigating their school's administrative services. 61% reported that they needed career counseling. Foster youth need guidance in order to set and meet career goals.

Personally, I changed majors five times in college. I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do. Eventually, they all added up and made sense, and I ended up going for a Master's degree. But I figured this out the same way I made most of my decisions: alone.

1.) In order to make the best use of funds, ETV funding should be coordinated with other sources of funding assistance. Ideally, foster youth would receive a combination of funding sources that is sufficient to provide for both their living expenses and education.

2.) Don't overlook the need for mentoring and counseling: One quarter of the participants in OFA's survey reported their need for academic and mental health counseling.

For more information, please visit:

"Spring 2006 Survey of (1204) OFA ETV Students." Orphan Foundation of America, July 5, 2006.

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Lisa, I hope you don't mind me saying this. But a lot of times when you pose certain "problems affecting foster youth", most of them are problems that other youth face also. Need of academic support, work conflicting with college, social isolation, etc, etc. I went through all those as well, but for different reason. No one is immune to any part of the human experience.
"2.) A sense of direction: 42% of foster youth reported that they needed additional support in navigating their school's administrative services. 61% reported that they needed career counseling. Foster youth need guidance in order to set and meet career goals"

In most colleges, it's a big building with a sign that says, "admissions". or "Administration".

Also, everyone, foster child or not, needs to beware of the academic counseling offered in colleges. Most have no idea what they are talking about. The last time I went to one, I had to educate her.

Lisa, I also needed big time help when I graduated high school. I didn't get it! All high school grads need to be made more aware of the way things work in general.

I agree 100% with you. Those thoughts crossed my mind when I was typing the entry.

Ideally college advisors would be knowledgeable, involved and supportive.

(And, to be fair, ideally students would go to their office to meet with them, which the survey showed that a lot of foster alumni were not doing).

Lack of guidance is not a problem that is unique to foster alumni.

In fact, I would guess that probably one reason that you are the ideal ally for foster youth and foster alumni is that you've had to figure out a lot of things for yourself.

So, I don't disagree with you at all. My posting is just a summary of the findings and recommendations from OFA's survey.

Looking back on my personal college experiences:
-My grades were fine
-Grants, loans were available
-My professors: some better than others
-I bought textbooks for big bucks and sold them back for pennies, just like everybody else

My biggest challenges were:

1.) Lack of safety net: I knew I'd be homeless if I blew it. However, when I was 17, I did mess up and as a result, I was homeless for two weeks.

2.) No car & didn't know how to drive - this is the downside of starting college at age 16.

3.) Worked up to five jobs on campus simultaneously, because I was living on campus, and part-time jobs were what was available.

4.)I had no medical insurance. This became an expensive problem when I had a cancer scare at age 19.

What OFA is doing is examining their effectiveness with foster youth and how they might be more effective in the future.

They are also justifying their existence and (I'd guess) hoping to administer ETV funding in other states, as well as the seven that they have on board already.

Lack of health insurance was a big problem in the late 90's when I was "that age" also. Some people's parents could cover them up to age 25 if they were a full time student, but that was rare. People who are in school can usually only work part time jobs which offer no health insurance. I had some health problems at that time, too. I sprained my ankle first, and then I was bitten by a brown recluse spider and had to have the wound surgically excised and drained. But, luckily, I was not in college, and worked a full time job which offered full health insurance (the child abuse shelter).
Nowdays, there are affordable student plans. This is what I have now. I pay 600 dollars a year for this. You do not have to be a student to stay on the insurance, but you do have to be a student with at least nine credit hours on your schedule at the time that you enroll. After that, you can graduate, you can take semesters off, whatever you want, you just need to prove that you were a student at the time of enrollment should you need to make a claim.
I took care of this already by seding them a copy of my old schedule and final grades from that semester. This even covers prenatal care if I had a baby. It's a pretty good deal.
Things are looking up for youngsters since you and I were kids, but we have a long ways to go!
Danielle is absolutely right-I went to a poor HS and we had one guidance counselor for over 600 students. She didn't have time to explain college funding possibilities, which was really sad since 99% of the kids at my school couldn't have went to college without some sort of financial aid. Thankfully, I had my parents to help me navigate the system, but many of their parents weren't informed enough to do that, and clearly, foster children have no one at all to help them with that end of things, let alone what to do once they get to college.

I do know from talking to a Children's Services worker here that Ohio has several scholarship programs for foster children, and they also qualify for almost every grant program available, at least for undergraduate degrees.
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