Pa. Bill Would Aid Foster Kids to Pursue Higher Education

By Giammarise, Kate | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 17, 2018 | Go to article overview

Pa. Bill Would Aid Foster Kids to Pursue Higher Education


Giammarise, Kate, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


When Bryn Elizabeth Albee left foster care in 2004, she did something fairly unusual for a young person aging out of the system - she went to college.

"I was very lucky that I ended up graduating on time and was able to go to college in the first place," she said, because many of the other foster youth she knew did not attend college, or even graduate from high school.

Ms. Albee is now part of a group of advocates pushing for a bill that would assist kids in foster care in accessing higher education in Pennsylvania.

House Bill 1745 would would create college tuition waivers for foster youth age 14 and older at state-supported institutions, such as state-owned universities, state-related universities and community colleges. The legislation would also require schools to have a point of contact specifically for foster youth to aid in connecting them with services.

Advocates for the bill have said many other states have such arrangements for youth who have aged out of the foster system, either as tuition waivers or scholarships.

"This is something that we know is common," said Nadia Mozaffar, staff attorney at Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which supports the bill.

Completing higher education can be a struggle for children who have left foster care.

Locally, about 28 percent of kids who were in foster care in Allegheny County had at least some two-year or four-year college attendance, according to statistics from the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, although that doesn't necessarily indicate that they graduated.

That figure "should be considered an estimate," because of the data-collection method, said Elaine Plunkett, an agency spokeswoman.

While foster youth have the same aspirations for post-secondary education that other young people do, they can face a number of financial and other barriers, said Helen Cahalane, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work.

Estimates of college graduation among former foster youth range between 1 and 11 percent, she said.

"Application costs, tuition, fees, books, supplies, room and board are huge financial barriers that can prevent youth in the foster care system from taking that next step toward higher education," Ms. Cahalane wrote in an email. …

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