America’s First College for Former Foster Youth Will Open this Fall

By this fall, 24 former foster youth will be enrolled at the nation’s first college specifically for former foster youth.

Riverbend Center for Higher Education, operated by nonprofit child welfare service provider KVC Health Systems, will start working with students in July. And students will move to the Montgomery, West Virginia, campus and start working with KVC Health Systems staff this fall, prior to starting classes in the spring semester.

Operating in partnership with BridgeValley Community and Technical College, a community college with two locations in the state, Riverbend will offer programming and support for the former foster youth it serves.

“The college community is a longtime dream,” said Tommy Bailey, executive vice president for strategic initiatives at KVC. “As an organization with a long, successful past of providing critical services to children and families, KVC understands the vital role the campus will play in the lives of so many youth aging out of care without a support system or community to help them transition successfully.”

The staff at Riverbend and BridgeValley, as well as community members and the local YMCA staff, will undergo training on trauma-informed care so they have a better understanding of the youth who will attend the school and how to meet their unique needs.

“KVC will offer wrap-around supports and access to basic needs, focusing on areas like social/emotional skill development, financial literacy, self-fulfillment and actualization development, employment readiness, and other life skills related to management of life needs (home management, healthy food choices, etc.),” Bailey shared in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change.

Recognizing the challenges that foster youth often face in school achievement – fewer than 10 percent typically graduate from college – there will be no prerequisites to attend Riverbend. Bailey says this is part of meeting kids “where they are” and staff will work closely with them to help them succeed.

Attendance will be free for former foster youth, as the program will tap into federal and state funds to foot the projected $50,000 per year, per student bill.

Riverbend will enroll about 50 students a year.

“KVC has plans to expand residential space to accommodate a greater student population with an ultimate goal of 500,” Bailey said.

The school will offer two-year degree and workforce certificates in conjunction with BridgeValley Community and Technical College. BridgeValley will offer all of the course work for the college while KVC will provide student support staff and care for the facility.

Plans to establish the college at the Montgomery site were announced one year ago. An original plan to build a campus on a shuttered naval base was scuttled when the base was sold, but the plan for a campus in the state’s Upper Kanawha Valley, at the former 118-acre West Virginia Institute of Technology, gained steam after Gov. Jim Justice highlighted KVC’s plan in his first State of the State address.

KVC Health Systems – which has programs in West Virginia, Kansas, Kentucky and Nebraska – purchased the property in 2017 through a 25-year lease purchase agreement.

CORRECTION: This article has been edited to reflect that KVC will start working with students in July, but students will not be on campus until this fall and start classes in the spring semester. An earlier version stated that enrollment would begin in July.

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Kim Phagan-Hansel
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