According to a report from the Education Commission of the States, Strengthening Policies for Foster Youth Postsecondary Attainment, only 3 percent of the 415,000 children in foster care will ever graduate college with a Bachelor’s degree, compared with 32.5 percent of the U.S. population aged 25 and older. Only 46 percent of foster youth graduate from high school, compared with 88.4 percent of the U.S. population aged 25 and old.
There have been some improvements in financial aid for foster youth. The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 established the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP). The Education Training Vouchers program was added to CFCIP in 2002. The 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (FCA) also improved college access for foster children. Changes were made to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in July 2009 to help foster children.
The Education Training Voucher (ETV) program provides up to $5,000 per year for college students who are in foster care, were adopted from foster care after reaching age 16, or aged out of foster care. They must have obtained a high school diploma or GED, reapply annually and maintain satisfactory academic progress. The funds are available for enrollment in a 2-year or 4-year college or university or for enrollment in accredited vocational and technical training programs. Eligible students may receive grants for up to five years or until they reach age 23. Apply through your state’s Child Welfare Agency. Some state programs are administered by Foster Care to Success.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) considers students to be independent if they were in foster care at any time after reaching age 13. These students are considered to be independent even if they were adopted at age 13 or older. The FAFSA also includes other questions designed to identify foster children so that they can be directed to resources available to them.
There are also scholarships and tuition waivers available to foster children. The state tuition waivers usually involve just tuition and not other costs, such as textbooks and living expenses.
The report from the Education Commission of the States made several recommendations for helping foster children pursue a college education:
- Expand foster care to cover students beyond age 18 who are enrolled in college
- Eliminate tuition waiver requirements that are particularly challenging for foster children, such as requirements for financial contributions, volunteer service or maintaining a higher GPA than is required for federal student aid
- Standardize eligibility criteria across states, with regard to age, deadlines, types of colleges, etc.
- Expand state tuition waivers to cover other costs, such as textbooks, housing, transportation and childcare.