Chapter 3Maximizing Financial Aid for Foster Youth
Financial aid packaging is meant to identify funding streams to help students meet the cost of attendance at their school. Because foster youth have limited access to monetary resources, they require special consideration when assessing cost of attendance expense categories. Financial aid officers are encouraged to ask students from foster care about their particular economic situations in order to identify potential gaps in funding. Administrators can use their discretion when considering a cost of attendance amendment for students.
Additionally, cost of attendance is usually calculated based on students who either live on campus, or commute from a family home. Foster youth that live off campus often live alone and do not have financial support from parents. Institutions should consider publishing a cost of attendance for students that live off campus without relatives (reflecting market rates for housing and utilities). Below are other items for consideration when developing financial aid packages for foster youth.
Many first-time college students from foster care will be eligible to receive full TAP awards, however, foster youth who are undocumented, or who have lost financial aid eligibility due to academic probation, should receive special consideration for other available institutional need-based aid.
Campus fees often prevent students from registering or dropping classes, requesting transcripts, and engaging in school activities. These fees may be imposed as a standard protocol for all students or they may be charged due to late or missed payments. Schools should consider waiving the following fees to alleviate an undue financial burden on students from foster care:
- Special fees associated with classes, such as technology fees for software
- Class enrollment fees or housing deposits
- Student orientation fees, such as for campus lodging and travel to orientation
- Late fees and collections fees. Campuses can use a foster youth indicator in the system to automatically waive these fees or to avoid account holds that prevent students from completing enrollment and un-enrollment processes
- Graduation/commencement fees
- Official transcript fees
- Diploma fees
Students need timely access to textbooks, computers, and other relevant technology to prepare for class and fully participate in their studies. Too often, foster youth experience delays with financial aid, and end up not being able to purchase books and supplies until long after classes begin. These delays put students at risk of falling behind academically. Schools should consider offering alternate means for covering these types of expenses, such as grants, stipends, or “bridge” loans to ensure students are properly equipped before each semester begins.
Foster youth have limited access to flexible funding to help cover the wide variety of expenses associated with attending college and their basic everyday needs. Higher education institutions can make FYCSI financial aid refundable in order to provide students with support for personal expenses (e.g., toiletries, dorm furnishings, laundry supplies, school supplies, etc.). Other expense categories to factor in include:
- Medical expenses to cover emergencies, such as replacing contact lenses or eyeglasses
- Clothing allowances to replace worn and lost items, and to purchase athletic or seasonal attire
- Dependent expenses including, child care coverage during class time, study hours, and required internships
Because foster youth are unlikely to receive food support from family or other outside sources, campuses should consider packaging students with the most extensive meal plan options, or adjust their food allowances so they can purchase food off campus.
Schools should consider housing expenses for students from foster care that are living on campus, as well as for those on their own off-campus. Additionally, it would be helpful to ask students if they will need housing only for the fall and spring semesters, or if year-round housing is required. Many students that are still in foster care are eligible for room and board assistance from their foster care agencies. Room and board allocations vary based on a number of factors. Students must provide documentation to their agencies to receive payments. Foster youth sometimes experience delays in receiving their room and board payments. It would be helpful for schools to provide these students with a template form to help them document proof of pending room and board payments to avoid late fees and other processing issues that might disrupt their education.
When estimating transportation expenses, schools should consider including the cost for students to travel to and from their hometowns (for those living in campus housing or attending school outside their countries of origin) as well as travel expenses incurred during the move in/move out processes.
It is recommended that all institutions establish a pool of funds to meet the urgent needs of students experiencing housing disruption, food insecurity, or emergency medical conditions.