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College dream closer for more foster care students, but it's still complicated

Sep 29, 2015

Kevin Riedel was a keynote speaker at the Detroit Fostering Futures Fundraiser event.
Credit Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

The number of kids in foster care is on the rise, according to a recently released report.

Last year, there were 415,129 kids in care nationwide. That's over 14,000 more kids than the year before.  

This isn’t good news for a number of reasons, especially when you consider the odds these kids face as young adults. 

State of Opportunity has reported how difficult the transition from foster care to college can be and how easy it is to feel "disposable" in the system. The life events that most of us would consider a "right of passage" – things like sleeping over at a friend's housegetting a driver's license, and getting consistent health care – can be distant dreams for the state's most disadvantaged young people. 

College is a dream that is being made a little bit more attainable and affordable for students from foster care. There is a growing number of colleges and universities across the country that offer special support services for this student population. An interactive map developed by Fostering Success Michigan in collaboration with Casey Family Programs shows that Michigan and California are leading the nation in providing postsecondary support to young people who have experienced time in foster care. 

The Education and Training Voucher (ETV)Tuition Incentive Program (TIP), and Youth In Transition (YIT) are all examples of funding sources available to these types of students in Michigan. They've made a huge dent in the financial burden of many students from foster care, but each program comes with fairly rigid eligibility requirements that not all students are able to meet.

The ETV program, for example, can provide students with up to $5,000 in funding for school-related expenses each year. But to qualify, students must have been in foster care on or after their 14th birthday (or adopted after turning 16), have a high school diploma or GED, and attend an accredited school. The application requires students to provide documentation of their time in foster care, a completed budget, and an explanation of how they plan to use the funds. Students are responsible for keeping receipts to show how they spent the money, which are due each time the student reapplies for additional funds.

Students must also apply for ETV and receive funding before they turn 21 years old – which means a student who finds out about the scholarship the day after their 21st birthday no longer qualifies, even if they show financial need and meet all other requirements. Funding is only available to students until they turn 23, regardless of how long it may take them to finish their degree. 

To help bridge the funding gap, Michigan Education Trust (MET) created the Fostering Futures Scholarship. This scholarship is more inclusive than many others.

“Fostering Futures offers a wider variety," says Ann Rossi, departmental analyst at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). "You have ETV and TIP, but Fostering Futures catches students that some of the other programs don't.”

Students can receive up to $3,000 Fostering Futures funding each year at any age as long as they're pursuing an undergraduate degree. The scholarship is distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. The only requirements are that students must have been in foster care on or after their 13th birthday and keep passing grades in college. Rossi hopes that Fostering Futures can provide students with sustainable support in the event that ETV or TIP were to lose federal funding. 

“Many former foster care students simply don’t have the support system and financial resources they need to be able to attend college and earn a post-secondary degree,” said State Treasurer Nick Khouri in a MDHHS press release.  “In just four short years, Fostering Futures will have helped more than 1,000 very special young people reach for their dreams. This has been a remarkable, collaborative effort – one the Department of Treasury is strongly committed to – with planning already underway for Fostering Futures 2016.”

Kevin Riedel is a Fostering Futures scholarship recipient. He entered the foster care system at age 13. His dad is incarcerated; his mother is deceased.

Riedel says there's not enough support for foster care youth in higher education. "It could be improved by having better access to information," he says. He took it upon himself to find the resources available to him, which he called being "proactive."

Riedel spoke at the latest Fostering Futures fundraiser in Detroit, which raised over $130,000 for the scholarship fund. “The one thing MET has given me is hope,” Riedel declared in his speech. “Hope that I would graduate, hope that I would see a better future.” Riedel is on track to graduate from Wayne State University in May of 2016. 

For more on college access and affordability, join us for a special State of Opportunity Issues & Ale event on Oct. 6 in Kalamazoo. You can find more info and register here