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Former foster youth are less likely to complete a college degree compared to their peers who spent no time in foster care. Several colleges and universities are investing in support services for former foster youth.

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College completion for youth with experience in the foster care system remains low, with about half of former foster children completing high school, 2 to 6 percent earning a two-year degree, and 3 to 4 percent earning a four-year degree, according to data from the National Foster Youth Institute.

A May 2023 report from the University of California, Los Angeles, found support services for foster youth help bridge their unique needs through advising, educational and social programming, and case management. However, the report found there are still opportunities to improve financial support and success measures to help these students.

Inside Higher Ed found four new or successful collegiate programs to support students formerly in foster care.

Livingstone College—Center for Aging Out  

In May, Livingstone College in North Carolina signed a memorandum of understanding with Home4Me, a nonprofit organization focused on teens in foster care. Livingstone president Anthony J. Davis, who was in the foster care system for most of his youth, was inspired to help address the “foster care crisis in America,” according to the college.

The college welcomed its first cohort in July, providing five teens aging out of the system wraparound supports and resources. Students participate in the six-week bridge program at Livingstone and receive support from Home4Me, including for basic needs such as housing and food.

California State University, Fullerton—Guardian Scholars   

California has the largest foster care population in the nation, with over 50,000 foster youth in the Golden State, according to the UCLA report. Almost all of the 23 California State University campuses have their own programs to support foster youth, with the exception of Cal Maritime.

California State University, Fullerton, has the system’s oldest foster care support program, Guardian Scholars, which launched in 1998 with three students in the first cohort. The program has helped over 100 students earn undergraduate degrees, with many going on to earn postgraduate degrees as well.

As part of the program, students have access to year-round on-campus housing, priority registration, summer programming, coaching, study spaces and community activities. The program also provides scholarship support.

Kennesaw State University—CARE Services 

KSU created Campus Awareness, Resources and Empowerment (CARE) Services in 2008 to aid completion and retention for foster students as well as other at-risk groups, including housing- and food-insecure students. CARE Services includes emergency financial assistance, housing support, a food pantry and a living-learning community for students who experienced foster care or unaccompanied homelessness as a youth.

The program operates with a case management model, providing individualized support for learners. CARE Services employs licensed social work student interns to create plans and coordinate services for program participants. A college transition program for former foster youth and homeless students also helps them succeed at the institution.

Student Profiles

Data on college students with foster care histories finds 75 percent of students attend a two-year college, 10.2 percent attend a less selective four-year college and 14.8 percent attend a selective four-year college, according to a June 2023 report from the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty.

A majority (60.8 percent) of former foster youth enrolled in college are working full-time, and 15 percent work 20 to 34 hours per week. Over half (62.7 percent) are parents, and almost all (83.3 percent) face economic hardships while enrolled.

State University of New York—Foster Youth College Success Initiative 

The Foster Youth College Success Initiative (FYCSI) at SUNY is a state-funded program that provides resources for New York residents who received foster care services at any time after turning 13. The initiative is part of SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program, which operates at 54 of SUNY’s 64 colleges, but it also provides support to students not enrolled in an EOP.

The initiative provides funding that can be applied to tuition and fees, housing, meals, course materials, transportation, academic support, and personal expenses. To date, the initiative has received $50.5 million from the state to support over 2,000 students.

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