Children in foster care face many challenges and, for many, affording college is one of the greatest. Less than half of foster youth graduate from high school and only six percent earn a college degree.
Foster parents cannot be counted on for financial support through college. While some do help by taking on the role of parents to kids who are emancipating from the system, many foster parents are caring for multiple children and can’t afford to help pay for college for each of them.
The problem for foster youth who want to go to college is that they have the same dreams as other young people do but fewer resources ; the problem for society is that, unless these kids get an education, they may become lifelong drains on the welfare system. For that reason, the federal government and several states offer college financial assistance programs for foster youth.
Although some foster children are adopted, most simply “age out” at eighteen years of age. These children are termed emancipated, and are considered independent for purposes of deciding college financial need. They have the same access to federal and state grants as other students; Pell Grants, which do not have to be repaid, and loans like the Stafford that may be subsidized.
In addition, though, several states offer tuition waivers, according to the Spark Action website. For instance, California State University at Fullerton partners with the county foster care program to provide tuition, books and year-round housing. That last need is vital; kids who age out of the system often don’t have a home to go to during school breaks. They also receive a faculty mentor trained to address their special needs.
Those youth fortunate enough to be adopted have resources as well. According to The North American Council on Adopted Children, or NACAC, website, the government passed a bill that says children who are adopted from the foster care system after age 13 can be listed as emancipated and don’t have to count their family income on their FAFSA forms. Children adopted after age 16 qualify to receive the ETV, or Education and Training Voucher, award. This is a grant of up to $5,000 per year, funded by the federal government and administered through the states. Students can find out about the grant through human services departments and usually are required to submit a personal essay.
The first step for foster youth looking for financial assistance is filling out the FAFSA form. On it, the youth need to check the status option “orphan, or ward of the court.” This signals the program that the applicant will qualify for higher award amounts. In addition, foster youth should check with their departments of human services to find out about the financial aid available to young people coming out of the foster care system. Although there is no legislation that demands standardized assistance, many states do help by offering tuition waivers or scholarships. There are also private scholarships that target former foster care youth. In addition, there are other organizational opportunities available. The Casey Foundation, long a voice for helping foster youth succeed, offers over a million dollars in scholarships and the Foster Care to Success program partners with other organizations and donors to provide scholarships of $1,500 to $5,000 to cover books, tuition and other expenses for one year.
Kids who come out of the foster care system have already faced many obstacles. They don’t usually have the resources that other students have when it comes to paying for college. Foster parents who might otherwise help often cannot. State reimbursement rates for foster care are too low to allow most to set up college funds in advance for children who live with them. Youth who have come through the foster care system and who are determined to further their educations must have help affording college.