Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts, #4: Increase Federal Academic Assistance for Foster Youth

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations
made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund.

Each of the FYI participants crafted a carefully researched policy recommendation during their time in Washington. Today we highlight the recommendation of Kenya Adeola, a student at Florida International University.

The Proposal

Adeola recommends a two-pronged approach to help states be more supportive to foster youth who pursue college degrees. First, she recommends that federal government offer financial incentives — in the form of a reimbursement — to states that offer full college tuition waivers to foster youths.

Second she calls for a 200 percent increase in the Chafee Independent Living Program’s Educational Training Voucher (ETV). The award limit is now $5,000; Adeola calls for an increase to $15,000.

The Argument

Adeola lays out two key problems that serve as barriers to a college education for foster youths. The first is that when foster youths are expected to pay for part or all of their college tuition, few are able to make it work. In California, which does not offer a full tuition waiver, 2.4 percent of foster youth enroll in undergraduate institutions. Adeola contrasts that with Massachusetts, which offers a full waiver. Seventeen percent of Massachusetts foster youths enroll in college, and 83 percent of those students go full time.

The other problem is that simply supporting yourself at college has gotten more expensive, but the supports for foster youth have stayed about the same. Her report includes figures that bring this issue into specific relief.

In 1999, Adeola writes, the cost of fees, tuition, board and books was just over $12,000. ETV wasn’t around in 1999, but if it was, it would have covered close to half of that.

In 2015, the cost for college necessities is just over $25,000, more than twice what it was in 1999. The ETV remains at $5,000.

In Her Own Words

Kenya
Kenya Adeola

“I never anticipated that it would take more than 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree. College was difficult for me because it felt impossible to maintain a healthy balance between working and studying. In order to cover my tuition costs, I worked over 40 hours each week during my six years as a full-time undergraduate student to supplement the $5,000 Educational Training Voucher. Even with this voucher and full time employment, I was not able to fully cover all my education and living costs.”

The Chronicle’s Take

We’ll begin by saying that Adeola has keyed in on a truth that is not said out loud enough: It is patently absurd for any state to expect a foster youth to afford college. If you are in foster care at the time you are thinking about college, you are almost certainly aging out or headed to extended foster care through 21.

Who is in that student’s life that is a likely provider of money to pay for tuition and the cost of living at college? States ought to be obliged to pay for college when nobody can find a permanent family by the time they are ready and able to attend.

But as this list of states with tuition waivers indicates, many states do not feel that obligation. So maybe this is an avenue where federal carrots (and/or sticks) could make a difference.

The idea of federal participation in state tuition waivers is an interesting one. We suspect a per-pupil reimbursement plan would have an extremely high price tag, and would be tough to cap. More manageable, perhaps, would be something in the vein of the federal adoption incentives, which are awarded to states based on their number of finalized adoptions from foster care.

What if states received some federal award or reimbursement for every student that graduated after receiving a tuition waiver? If the amount was decent, that might actually motivate a state and offer some predictable appropriation amount for Congress to move on.

As for the ETV award, it absolutely stands to reason that the maximum amount should be higher now than it was in 2001 when the program started. You’d want to be careful about tripling it, though, because ETV is a discretionary program. That means Congress can appropriate whatever it chooses for those vouchers every year.

Traditionally, that figure has been around $45 million. Just because the maximum award tripled does not mean Congress will triple the budget; in fact, that would be pretty unlikely.

We have heard from some state ETV directors that they actually have money left over in some years; there aren’t enough foster youth applying and eligible to use all the money at $5,000 a pop. In those states an increase in the max amount would be easy.

In California, the state routinely has more eligible ETV candidates than it can fund. Washington State faced the same conundrum and actually lowered its ETV award below $5,000 to reach all eligible students.

Click here to read Adeola’s entire proposal and those of her fellow FYI participants.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

John Kelly
About John Kelly 1128 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.