Academic journal article Child Welfare

Pathways to College for Former Foster Youth: Understanding Factors That Contribute to Educational Success

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Pathways to College for Former Foster Youth: Understanding Factors That Contribute to Educational Success

Article excerpt

This article presents early descriptive findings from the Pathways to College study, a multimethod and multiphase study of emancipated foster youth. Results based on a sample of 216 emancipated foster youth attending a four-year university indicate that many of their experiences are characteristic of individuals manifesting resilience in the face of adversity. At the same time, results indicate that although the youth are successful academically, they may be vulnerable in other areas. This article examines the participants' responses, comparing them to other studies to understand the factors that affect the academic performance of former foster youth.

High school graduation and advancement to a four-year college or university are two marks of successful achieve ment following emancipation from the foster care system. Although more research efforts are being aimed at tracking youth leaving the foster care system, little is known about those who are currently enrolled in postsecondary education. Research on youth exiting the foster care system tends to highlight negative outcomes of out-of-home care, including homelessness, dependence on public assistance, substance abuse, increased psychological distress, and lack of educational achievement (Barth, 1990; Cook, 1991; Courtney, Piliavin, Grogan-Kaylor, & Nesmith, 2001; Festinger, 1983; Jones & Moses, 1984; Nevada KIDS COUNT, 2001; Piliavin, Sosin, Westerfelt, & Matsueda, 1993). Little literature examines former foster youth who go on to lead healthy and productive lives and the contributing factors that enabled them to succeed. Understanding the factors related to the educational achievement of former foster youth can help inform program and service delivery, both to those still in the foster care system and those who have left.

This article presents early descriptive findings from the Pathways to College study (Merdinger, Hines, Lemon, & Wyatt, 2002), a multimethod and multiphase study of emancipated foster youths attending college. The results help paint a portrait of 216 youth who have left the foster care system and achieved educational success by planning for and enrolling in college.

Background and Literature Review

For all young adults, postsecondary education never has been more important than in the present era. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the number of college level jobs will grow faster than the number of jobs for people with less than college education during the years of 1998-2008 (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). In addition to the increased likelihood of employment, college graduates also earn more money than non-college graduates. In 1999, 25-34 year-old college graduates earned $15,000 more yearly than high school graduates ($40,000 v. $25,122), and $22,000 more than high school dropouts ($40,000 v. $18,000) (U.S. Department of Education, 2000).

Statistics indicate that the U.S. population has become increasingly educated over time: "In 1999, 88% of those aged 25-29 had earned a high school diploma or its equivalent; 66% of the high school completers in this age group had completed some college; and 32% had earned a bachelor's degree or higher" (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000, p. 40). As such, young adults who do not possess a certain level of education-which, for today's workforce, increasingly means a bachelor of arts or science-are often at a disadvantage.

A review of the literature on high school completion rates of former foster youth indicates that they remain behind their peers in high school and GED graduation rates (Table 1). Zimmerman (1982) reports a 39% graduation rate of former foster youth in New Orleans, Louisiana. Festinger (1983) found in her study of former foster youth in the New York metropolitan area that 65% had completed high school. Additionally, Jones and Moses (1984) found that 51% of their study respondents had completed high school. Earth's (1990) study of former foster youth in Northern California found that 62% of the respondents completed high school. …

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