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Almost all kids in foster care want to go to college. Why do so few make it?

Nov 21, 2014

Unfortunately, going to college isn't always this simple.
Credit greenandgold.uaa.alaska.edu / Creative Commons

It's important to go to college, we get it.

Kids in foster care get it, too. Almost all of them say they want to go to college. But only one in five actually does. Of those students who do make it on campus, less than 9% graduate.

What's going on here?

Applying for college is a hard process for any student. It involves formulating a (possibly very expensive) multi-year plan to get a degree and plan your entire future. These choices are being made by 16-year-old high school juniors before their brains have even had a chance to fully develop.

The reality is, most kids in foster care are coming from low-income communities. It's hard enough as it is for kids in those communities to make it to college. Even high-achieving kids at low-income schools have a hard time navigating the steps to get to college. 
There are tons of great resources about college access on the Internet, even for kids in care. But this information often doesn't make it to the kids who need it. 

Where the system breaks down in sending kids in foster care to college

  • First things first. To make it to college, you have to be able to graduate from high school. For kids in foster care, who may change schools frequently and deal with inconsistent curriculum, this is hard enough.  
  • Then, you'll need a computer to access so much of this information about college. However, many young people in the foster care system, especially those living in residential placements, don’t have a computer to use.
  • Even computers in public places, like libraries, can be hard to get to because kids in foster care often have issues arranging transportation. 
  • The digital divide for kids in foster care is real and it impacts their ability to go to college. 
  • As a rule, kids in foster care have fewer supportive adults in their lives than other children.
  • Guidance counselors are a scarce resource in low-income communities, where many kids in foster care live. 
  • Even when there are well-informed counselors available, schools don't necessarily know which of their students are in foster care and to whom to reach out. 

So what is the best way to reach kids in foster care who want to go to college? 

The good news is, there are resources aimed at bringing college access to students who would otherwise have a hard time getting them. There’s the College Advising Corps, for example, which helps low-income and underrepresented kids in underserved public high schools navigate the admissions process.

Another resource for Michigan’s kids in foster care are educational planners, professionals designated to act as a liaison between the foster care system and education system. Their job is to provide one-on-one assistance for youth in care to connect them with available resources and access higher education. But some counties have very few of these people available to help the hundreds of kids who could use their services.

There are college access events for students in foster care, too.  I’ll be attending one tomorrow in Grand Rapids called Jump Shot Your Future. It promises to connect teens in foster care to resources that will help them access higher education. I'll let you know what I find out.  

If you know of a school or program who's made some strides in helping this group overcome barriers to accessing college, we'd love to hear about it.