A national survey of more than 600 public, four-year colleges by the First Star Institute’s Foster Youth Success in College Project has found that nearly half of all states offer college-based support programs for foster children but that affordability remains a major challenge for these vulnerable students.
First Star Institute notes that foster children are three times more likely to drop out of high school than other low-income children, only 50 percent graduate from high school, and only three to eight percent graduate college by age 25. Foster students who do not complete their education are disproportionately likely to end up unemployed, homeless, or incarcerated.
According to the Chronicle of Social Change, although almost half of the states provide tuition waivers or vouchers aimed at helping former foster youth pursue higher education, those who cannot obtain full waivers are left to contend with significant costs.
Differences in state requirements regarding eligibility for foster care benefits, as well as colleges’ inconsistent methods for identifying foster care students, create obstacles for these students, leaving many unsure of their eligibility, incurring major debt, and often dropping out of college.
“When you have numbers as low of 3 percent of foster kids graduating, something’s got to give,” said Michelle Walls, president of the Michigan chapter of the National Foster Youth Institute and a former foster care youth who recently graduated from Michigan State University with help from the school’s foster youth support program.