Chapter 1Guide Introduction
As of 2019, 23 states support the higher educational achievement of youth with a foster care background by providing tuition and fee waivers. Additionally, there are eight states that also offer scholarships, housing options, and supportive services to help college students in foster care graduate. Below is information highlighting higher education programs for foster youth in four states.
California College Pathways provides resources and guidance to college campuses in order to support foster youth pursuing their degrees. This statewide program provides training and technical assistance for emerging and established campus programs designed to 1) increase support for youth in care; 2) advocate for policies and regulations that improve higher education outcomes for youth in care; and, 3) expand collaboration with local educational entities to create a pipeline to college for K-12 youth in foster care.5 Several communities in California established formal mechanisms to bring together the local child welfare agency, local college and university representatives, and the Foster Youth Services program (housed within the County Offices of Education) to implement services. This collaborative, community-based effort led to significant achievements within participating counties including improving foster youth retention from 25% to 70% at Sierra College; forming a foster youth committee at Chico State University to promote inter-departmental coordination; and, creating a Standing Court Order, which allows all major agencies in Humboldt County to communicate with each other about higher education issues involving foster youth without requiring individual Releases of Information in an effort to expedite and improve collaboration.
The Passport to College Promise Scholarship Program,6 administered by the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB), was created in 2007 to increase the number of youth in care who achieve higher education success. The Passport Program aims to: 1) provide former youth in care with financial assistance beyond the state, federal, private, and institutional financial aid for which they are eligible; 2) provide incentive funding to encourage post-secondary institutions to designate campus support staff to assist students in care; and, 3) establish student intervention and retention services to increase graduation rates of youth in care. Since its formation, the Passport Program has served over 850 students. After three years of implementation, the program has provided services to one-third of eligible students and an additional 19% of youth in care have enrolled in non-state-aid participating campuses. In addition, about two-thirds of each student cohort has re-enrolled for another year of school.
Students under the conservatorship of the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services are exempt from paying tuition and fees charged by any Texas public college or university.7 Once a student is deemed eligible for the program, the benefits continue indefinitely. Additionally, the Texas Education Code was amended in 2015 to require all public institutions of higher education to have a foster care liaison available to bridge the gaps youth in care face while trying to achieve success in post-secondary education.8 These liaisons connect foster care alumni to information, resources, and available support services on campus and across the institution. Liaisons play a critical part in facilitating educational success for youth in care by being a consistent point of contact for addressing their social and emotional needs.
New York State modified the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) as a first step toward expanding financial support for foster youth pursuing college. Previously, TAP had disproportionately limited access to financial aid for foster youth, in comparison to students living at home with their parents. This disparity occurred primarily because foster youth were considered “independent” for purposes of financial aid eligibility, and therefore had access to a smaller pool of available financial aid dollars than dependent students. In 2014, New York modified the TAP law and moved foster youth from the independent to the dependent schedule. This change increased the annual amount of financial aid available to foster youth by nearly $3,000.
In 2015, the state continued to expand access to educational funding and resources by establishing the Foster Youth College Success Initiative (FYCSI), the first comprehensive financial aid and academic support program for current and former foster youth attending public or private colleges in the state. Initially FYCSI, allowed eligible college-enrolled students in an opportunity program to receive wraparound academic and social support services. The FY2020 state fiscal budget allowed FYCSI to expand access and create equity for all eligible foster youth. Moving forward, students will now be able to receive support through the traditional opportunity program route, or choose to receive financial aid only. As of 2019, the state has invested $21 million in FYCSI, which has served nearly 600 foster youth attending 73 public and private colleges across the state during the 2015/16, 2016/17, and 2017/18 academic years.9