Nevada College System Passes Tuition Waivers for Foster Youth (Updated)

Update: The proposal to waive tuition and fees for Nevada foster youth was passed by the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents on Sept. 6.

The Board also decided to expand eligibility for the waiver to any student who have spent time any in foster care since age 14, rather than 16 as originally proposed.

The wavier policy will take effect starting January 2019. 

Foster youth in Nevada may soon see a clearer pathway to college as state leaders consider a proposal that would waive tuition and fees at a number of state schools for any Nevadan who spent time in foster care on or after their 16th birthday.

The Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) is set to vote on the proposal during the Sept. 6 meeting of the Board of Regents.

Research shows that while the vast majority of foster youth aspire to higher education, only 40 percent attend college and just 8 percent earn a degree by age 26.

“For foster care children, we want to create a culture of hope in the future and we can achieve that through educational success,” said NSHE Chancellor Thom Reilly, who is championing the proposal. “The reality remains that more education still means more money over a worker’s lifetime and a pathway to social mobility and the middle class.”

The proposal would waive foster youths’ tuition, registration fees and certain lab fees at eight state institutions, including:

  • University of Nevada-Las Vegas
  • University of Nevada-Reno
  • College of Southern Nevada
  • Desert Research Institute
  • Great Basin College
  • Nevada State College
  • Truckee Meadows Community College
  • Western Nevada College

Students up to age 26 who spent time in foster care on or after their 16th birthday would be eligible for the waiver.

“The responsibility really is on the state to be the parent to these youth,” and part of that means helping ensure their access to education, said Denise Tanata, executive director of the Las Vegas-based nonprofit Children’s Advocacy Alliance, which helped develop the proposal alongside the Walter S. Johnson Foundation.

According to the Education Commission of the States, state-level tuition assistance for foster youth started to appear in 2003. If passed, Nevada would join ranks with 28 states across the country that offer tuition assistance of some sort to foster youth, either through waivers or scholarships and grants (and, sometimes, a combination of the two).

While most waivers cover just tuition and fees, some states, like Iowa, use grants and scholarships to cover the entire cost of attending college, including books, meal plans and housing.

Just this year, the Arizona state legislature passed a similar tuition waiver for foster youth after analyzing the outcomes of a pilot program. Wisconsin is also considering a tuition waiver for in-state universities and technical schools – more than a third of the state’s legislators signed onto the bill as co-sponsors.

Foster youth in Nevada currently have access to some financial assistance options to support their education and transition to adulthood, including the federal Pell grant and educational training vouchers, which each provide a fixed dollar amount per school year. Neither come close to covering the full cost of attending college, though — the maximum Pell grant for the 2018-19 school year is $6,095, and the educational training vouchers provide up to $5,000 per school year. One year at UNLV for in-state residents costs more than $20,000. One year at Truckee Community College costs an estimated $23,717 for students not living with their parents.

“Doing the tuition fee waiver will allow [foster youth] to use those other funds for additional costs,” like housing, books, transportation, Tanata said. “Things that other youth would take for granted because they have that extra support from their parents.”

Children’s Advocacy Alliance is also looking to design a suite of wraparound services to be available to students both on and off campus, including supports to help students navigate challenges like housing and financial planning, as well as the day-to-day challenges of transitioning from high school to college. The proposal notes that the Division of Child and Family Services has indicated that they will assign a mentor to each student that qualifies for the waiver program.

Reilly, the NHSE Chancellor responsible for the proposal, is a former foster care case manager and oversaw the Clark County Department of Family Services while serving as county manager. Staff from his office say the initiative will lead to increased collaboration between NSHE and local child welfare agencies.

Approximately 200 youth age out of foster care each year in Nevada. According to the proposal, the estimated financial impact will be $115,000 for the first year with costs expected to rise in future years as additional cohorts of students start enrolling and taking advantage of the waiver.

According to Tanata, the NSHE will absorb the cost of the program into its budget, which is supplied by a combination of state funding and endowments.

Note: The Walter S. Johnson Foundation has made charitable contributions to Fostering Media Connections, the parent organization of Fostering Families Today and The Chronicle of Social Change.

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Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change
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