Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

From Foster Care to Higher Ed: Field Center at University of Pennsylvania Advocates for Former Foster Youth Planning to Attend Local Colleges

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

From Foster Care to Higher Ed: Field Center at University of Pennsylvania Advocates for Former Foster Youth Planning to Attend Local Colleges

Article excerpt

When it comes to accessing college, students who have experienced the foster care system have a steep hill to climb. Data about their college-going rates is scant, but existing studies indicate that, while the majority of foster youth say they want to go to college, few will ever attain a degree.

A 2011 University of Chicago study found that 11 percent of women who had experienced the foster care system had obtained a college degree by age 26. Among their male peers, 5 percent had obtained a college degree by age 26.

"We know that this is a group who could truly benefit from getting an education, yet has every barrier hitting them in the face," said Debra Schilling Wolfe, who leads the University of Pennsylvania's Field Center for Children's Policy, Practice and Research in Philadelphia.

Foster youth often do not have the same level of financial and emotional support that their peers take for granted, Wolfe said, leaving them more vulnerable to bumps along the road. A problem that might seem relatively minor, like being a few hundred dollars short for tuition, can be a disaster for college students who do not have a friend or family member to lend them the money.

Wolfe wants to see more colleges and universities proactively address these types of challenges, since they often have the resources to resolve these types of roadblocks, provided that they know there is a problem in the first place. Over the past several years, the Field Center has been working with local colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area to raise awareness about the sorts of challenges that former foster youth face while at school.

"This is an issue that more and more people are embracing, and we're delighted about that," Wolfe said.

In September, the Field Center announced a new partnership involving four Philadelphia area schools called the Foster Care to College program. It is the first iteration of an initiative that Wolfe hopes can be expanded to more local schools, depending on funding availability. In this first phase, Cabrini University, the Community College of Philadelphia, Temple University and West Chester University have come on board.

When selecting institutions, the Field Center intentionally teamed up with two- and four-year schools, public and private. "We thought we should offer youth from foster care the opportunities that any of our children would have and that would be to connect with the college that best matches their needs and their learning style," Wolfe said. …

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