- Tracy Gharbo
College Support Structures Help Former Foster Youth Navigate Higher Education
Can We Increase the Number of College-Bound Students Who Have Experienced Foster Care?
The foster care youth statistics* show that less than 3% of youth aging out of care complete a 4-year college degree. Through no fault of their own, many potential students suffer from a lack of financial ability, emotional support, or inadequate preparation for living independently. Several of our collaborators in Reshuffled have attributed their success to programs offered by states or universities. These types of programs offer a range of support and services to help former foster youth succeed in higher learning institutions.
Western Michigan University has a program called the Seita Scholars (www.wmich.edu/fosteringsuccess/seita) in which Reshuffled collaborator, Maggie Rose Grimm, found support and success. Maggie credits the program for, “helping with finances, housing, mental and physical health, and so much more!” WMU’s website states that “graduation rates for the Seita Scholars Program far exceed the national average, as over 30 percent of Seita Scholars who are first-time-in-any college and nearly 50 percent of all Seita Scholars achieve an undergraduate degree. Many go on to pursue graduate school.”
Sophia Booker benefited from a Virginia program called Great Expectations. Sophia shares in Reshuffled how the program helps young adults from the foster care system with academic support, filling out financial aid packets, and other skills necessary for completing college. They also paid for her tuition and books within the community college system. Sophia went on to graduate with honors from Virginia Commonwealth University and is now seeking a graduate degree in social work.
California has a website established for California College Pathways (www.cacollegepathways.org/search-by-college/) which allows for searches by college name to help youth find services, resources, and contact information throughout the state. California’s former foster youth can also benefit from a mentoring program called Ready to Succeed (www.readytosucceedla.org) where they can be partnered with mentors and internships. RTS identifies as a career and personal development program for former foster youth that provides resources, relationships, and opportunities to thrive, both personally and professionally.
Don’t fret if you live elsewhere! The Wily Network (www.thewilynetwork.org/program/) has established programs throughout New England college campuses to help former foster youth succeed in 4-year residential colleges and transition into post-college life. Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, and Massachusetts College of Art & Design are just a few of the participating institutions.
There are programs throughout the country designed to help former foster youth find success in academics. You may have to spend some time searching for the right one, and you will certainly need to be ready to request and accept help. You may even find inspiration to start your own program like Reshuffled contributor Melvin Roy did at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. Melvin founded a student-run program called Foster U (www. fosteruniv.org). They work to inspire young foster youth to aspire to college. The website shares its vision “to be an experienced group of college students who are knowledgeable about the foster care system so that we can produce young adults who are self-advocates with positive permanent connections, improved and equal opportunities and that empowers other youth.”
Follow your dream to earn a degree, and don’t hesitate to find the support and mentoring you will need. If you would like to take a deeper dive into the financial challenges facing former foster youth in search of higher education, The Century Foundation (https://tcf.org/content/report/college-affordability-challenges-facing-youth-experience-foster-care/) has an excellent report from February 2021.