States work to improve college access for youth currently or formerly in foster care

Attempts to reduce barriers to higher education for students with experience in foster care have often been disjointed and inadequate, says a January 2022 report by the Fostering Academic Achievement Nationwide (FAAN) Network, Education Reach for Texans, and John Burton Advocates for Youth. However, state legislatures are accelerating efforts to provide tuition and housing assistance for students who spent time in foster care systems, especially as they face significant impediments to higher education, such as homelessness, according to Inside Higher Ed

“Foster youth, by definition, are housing insecure,” said California State Senator Angelique Ashby in a recent webinar about the state’s efforts to increase support for students currently or formerly in foster care, Inside Higher Ed reports. “Not knowing where you’re going to live or where you’re going to get your food means you can’t really focus on college.”

Related: Colleges, partners step up investments to address housing insecurity >

Obstacles to higher education

Basic needs insecurity and high college costs have led to low postsecondary enrollment and completion rates and high stop-out rates among students with a history of being in foster care. By age 21, 30% of foster care youth have enrolled in a postsecondary institution, compared to 62% of all young people and 58% of all youths from low-income households, says a new report from the Urban Institute. Almost 50% of postsecondary students with a history of being in foster care stop out within their first year of school, with nearly half doing so due to difficulties paying for college.

Most students with a history of being in foster care may be eligible for diverse forms of financial aid, including federal Pell Grants, which will award a maximum grant of $7,395 for the 2023-2024 award year, and Education and Training Vouchers (ETV), which awards a maximum of $5,000 per academic year. Thirty-seven states also offer either tuition waivers or scholarships for students with experience in foster care. However, cumulatively, this funding usually is not sufficient to support these students throughout schooling nor to cover the full cost of attendance, which includes room and board. As a result, fewer than 10% of young people with a foster care history have a postsecondary degree, and fewer than 3% have a bachelor’s degree, according to the Urban Institute report.

Related: Georgetown offers winter and summer housing to students encountering personal challenges >

Increasing state support

Addressing housing insecurity among students with experience in the foster care system is seeing bipartisan support in state legislatures. Last year, Mississippi’s Republican-controlled state legislature passed the Fostering Access and Inspiring True Hope (FAITH) Scholarship Program Act, which provides tuition assistance for eligible students who were in foster care on or after reaching ages 14 to 25, or who have lived at a qualified residential childcare agency between those ages, the Magnolia Tribune reports. In Virginia, a bill receiving bipartisan support requires public colleges and universities to provide free housing during holiday, spring, and summer breaks to students who were receiving support through the state’s foster care system at age 18, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Minnesota’s new Fostering Independence Higher Education Grants and planned expansions of California’s Middle Class Scholarship program aim to cover the full cost of attendance, including tuition and fees, room and board, and other associated expenses for current and former foster youth. And lawmakers in Washington State are also working to make permanent pilot programs that offer support services to students facing homelessness and students who were in the foster care system.

Rodd Monts, director of state policy for SchoolHouse Connection has noticed “an increasing number of legislative proposals being introduced over all,” he tells Inside Higher Ed. “I’ve observed the level of bipartisan support for these issues increasing over the last couple of years, which is really promising.”

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