Chafee Education Grants: The Margin Between School and Survival

Like most foster youth pursuing post-secondary education, Cathia Lan began her journey at a community college. She wanted to beat the odds by finishing college and obtaining a degree.

Like others who age out of foster care, the odds are significantly against Cathia. Chapin Hall’s Midwest Study tells us that by age 26, just eight percent of foster youth hold a post-secondary degree as compared to nearly half (47 percent) of the same-age general population.

This disparity speaks to the hurdles that foster youth must overcome starting at an early age, compounded by the reality that we live in a world where tuition fees and cost of living are shooting through the roof.

According to a national study by Sallie Mae, in 2015, parental income, parental savings and parental borrowing paid for 38 percent of the cost of college in the United States. This is the greatest single source of funding used by students to pay for college.

Foster youth do not have this as an option, nor do they have the option to live at home to defer college expenses, as more than half of college students from the general population do, according to another Sallie Mae study from 2014.

Cathia’s rent, the cost of driving 12 miles each day to school, purchasing groceries, and paying for textbooks and school supplies added up quickly. Cathia was soon faced with difficult decisions like attending class or saving the transportation money to buy groceries. Cathia’s absences began affecting her academic performance.

Cathia’s dream began to feel unattainable, until she was awarded the Chafee Education and Training Voucher (ETV). Established by Congress in 2002, the Chafee ETV is the only source of financial aid dedicated solely to foster youth, and it makes a big difference. Students who receive the Chafee ETV are 52 percent more likely to complete three semesters or more of community college. Receipt of the Chafee ETV also increases the rate of course completion and the likelihood that the student has a 2.0 grade point average or higher.

Cathia was able to use her Chafee grant to pay for textbooks, supplies, and even help with her transportation costs.

Since the establishment of the Chafee ETV in 2002, the number of foster youth ages 18 to 21 in California has tripled, largely due to the extension of foster care to age 21 implemented in 2012. As a result, the number of foster youth attending community college in California is up 38 percent since 2012, with a full 14,761 current and former foster youth attending community college in 2014-15.

But Chafee ETV has not kept pace with this growth, and remains at the 2002 funding level. In 2014-15, a total of 4,609 students applied for the Chafee ETV and were determined eligible. Due to insufficient funds, one of every four eligible applicants did not receive a grant.

There is a budget proposal under consideration in the California State Legislature championed by Assemblymember Tony Thurmond that would expand funding for the Chafee ETV by $3.6 million so that every eligible youth who applied by the September 2 deadline would be entitled to a Chafee grant. The proposal would also establish standards so that use of the Chafee ETV would be prohibited at post-secondary institutions that do not meet at least a 30 percent graduate rate and have no higher than a 15.5 percent cohort default rate.

The Chafee ETV budget proposal has been well-received by legislators, but it’s reached a hurdle. The proposal was included in the Assembly version of the state budget, but not in the Senate version. The Budget Conference Committee is currently considering which proposals to include in the 2016-17 state budget. The Chafee ETV proposal must be included in the conference version of the budget in order to make it back to the Assembly and Senate for a final vote, and onto the Governor’s desk.

The grant made the difference for Cathia,  who transferred to San Francisco State University where she will be entering her senior year in the fall.

“My Chafee Grant meant that I didn’t have to choose between class and groceries, class and paying rent,” she told me. “I didn’t have to choose between education and survival.”

To express support for the Chafee ETV proposal, call the budget conference committee members and house leadership, and request that they include $3.6 million to expand the Chafee Education and Training Voucher in the state budget, or submit a support letter.

Simone Tureck is the associate policy director for the John Burton Foundation.

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