A group of senators have introduced legislation that seeks to increase access to higher education for youths in the foster care system or who have experienced homelessness.
The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act is aimed at improving the financial aid process for such youths by amending the Higher Education Act of 1965.
“The legislation..isn’t complicated,” said a statement from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who authored the bill with Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.). “It simply reduces some of the incredible barriers that homeless and foster care youth face to make a better life through higher education.”
This bill would mean significant changes for colleges and federally-funded education program for disadvantaged youths, and would command further study on the issue by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Among the specific changes:
- Establishes that two major sources of financial assistance for current or former foster youths in college are not to be factored in as income when calculating financial aid to the student. Those two sources are the Chafee Educational Training Vouchers (up to $5,000 per year) and payments for housing and living through extended-age foster care (in states that allow youths to stay in care between 18 and 21).
- Requires state schools to offer in-state tuition fees to any homeless or foster youth, starting in July of 2015.
- Requiring colleges and universities to develop a system for recruiting, assisting and communicating with homeless and foster youth. This would be a requirement of the school’s eligibility for most federal student loan and aid programs.
- Clarifies that anyone under 24 determined to be unaccompanied and homeless are “independent students,” and do not need to reapply for that status each year
- Allows for college financial aid administrators to verify homelessness through a documented phone call to the authority who made the determination, instead of a more laborious paperwork process.
Education Programs for Disadvantaged Youths
- Requires six federal programs – TRIO, GEAR UP, Student Support Services, Upward Bound, Talent Search and Educational Opportunity Centers – to demonstrate active recruitment and tracking of youths who are homeless or in foster care.
- Adds local directors of federal TRIO and GEAR UP – two education programs for low-income and disadvantaged youth – to the list of those authorities that can make the official determination that a youth is an “independent student” because they are homeless or at high risk of becoming homeless.
Government Accountability Office
- The GAO must assess within a year of passage the educational attainment of “those who are or who have been homeless” and “foster care youth.” The study will look at enrollment rates, graduation rates, and the average length of time it took such youths to obtain degrees when they were successful.
Recent data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that more than 1.1 million homeless children and youth are currently enrolled in U.S. public schools.
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of the Chronicle of Social Change