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June 15, 2022

College Promise for Youth In or Aged Out of Foster Care

Because a uniform, national college promise model would not adequately serve the estimated 20 million students in postsecondary education, ETS and College Promise launched an effort to expand the work on College Promise programs to identify ecosystems of support for specific student populations. In 2021, we invited scholars, practitioners, and student representatives to join a design team and cocreate the college promise program for their student populations. This research was recently published in a new study about programmatic strategies and supports to better serve five student populations, including youth in or aged out of foster care.

Foster youth who complete a college education report higher employment rates and annual earnings than those who do not complete college. Although over 80% desire to attend college, roughly 20% actually enroll. According to the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, between 3 and 10.8% of foster care alumni (FCA) who attend college will complete their bachelor’s degree. Studies have found that financial difficulties, needing to work, and concerns about housing are among the barriers that prevent youth in or aged out of foster care from pursuing postsecondary education. 

College Promise proposes a model program that is designed for youth in or aged out of foster care with the following key components.

Establishing a Campus Program

A campus program needs physical space, academic support, transfer support, and financial support to support youth in or aged out of foster care. Providing youth in or aged out of foster care with safe spaces encourages the opportunity to develop relationships with supportive faculty and staff, as well as a physical space to turn to. Having dedicated academic support, tutoring, supplemental instruction, flexible course schedules, and accessible course materials, can all help students better achieve academic success. Connecting students to foster youth support programs at their transfer institution ensures the completion of any pre-transfer requirements. Finally, having the flexibility in funding streams to provide support to the entire students’ financial needs is vital in supporting youth in or aged out of foster care. Individuals who lead and work in the institutions should also be trained in trauma-informed care to help to change the culture, policies, and procedures that traditionally govern the school.

Focus on Personal, Social, and Emotional Support

Basic needs such as healthcare, mental health, housing, and childcare should also be provided. These resources take into consideration the whole student, not only their academic progress. Wholistic services should additionally clarify the path to completion from the first day of college through graduation by listing out all necessary courses, incorporating experiential learning, and connecting students to life postcollege. 

Read the policy brief here. 

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