Each Month Spent in Care Beyond Age 18 Increases Likelihood of High School Completion

This memo examines factors that influence the likelihood of young people in foster care finishing high school and entering college. It explores a wide range of predictors, such as youth’s academic performance and background, physical maltreatment and foster care histories, and other risk and promotive factors.

What we did

In this Memo, we first investigate predictors of high school credential completion by age 19 among CalYOUTH participants who had not yet completed a high school credential at the time of their baseline interview. Of the 611 study participants interviewed at age 19, 545 had not yet earned a secondary education credential when we first interviewed them. We examined whether they had earned a high school diploma, GED, or alternative certification by their second interview at age 19.

We then examine predictors of college entry among CalYOUTH participants. Information on college enrollment was obtained from administrative data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) and supplemented by self-report data from the interviews conducted at age 19. We examined whether or not the 711 participants in this analysis had enrolled in a two-year or four-year college by the time the NSC data was obtained in February 2016, when the average and median ages of CalYOUTH participants was 20.2 years.

What we found

In the high school completion analysis, 71 percent of youth had attained a high school credential by age 19. In the college enrollment analysis, half of foster youth had enrolled in college by ages 19–20. Among college entrants, the overwhelming majority first enrolled in two-year colleges.

Several factors were associated with youths’ odds of completing a high school credential. Youth in rural and suburban counties were significantly more likely than youth in large urban counties to have earned a high school credential. Having completed 11th grade increased the odds of finishing a credential, as did youth’s reading proficiency. Conversely, youth who had ever repeated a grade were less likely to have completed a high school credential than youth who had not been held back. Foster youth with alcohol or substance use problems and foster youth who experienced sexual abuse prior to entering care were less likely to have completed a credential.

Several factors were also found to influence youths’ odds of enrolling in college. Youths’ highest completed grade at age 17, their reading proficiency score, and college aspirations were each positively associated with the estimated odds of college entry. Conversely, early parenthood, grade repetition, and the number of foster care placement changes each decreased the chances that foster youth entered college.

Each month in care past age 18 increased the expected odds of completing high school by about 8 percent and the odds of entering college by about 6 percent. Foster youth who changed foster care placements more often were less likely to enter college compared to youth who changed placements less often.

What it means

Some of the predictors shed light on other factors that negatively affected the chances that CalYOUTH participants completed a high school credential by age 19. The findings suggest that foster youths who showed signs of being behind academically, who had alcohol or substance use problems, or who experienced sexual abuse prior to entering care may be at heightened risk of not completing a credential.

Consistent with past studies, two-year colleges are an important access point to higher education for foster youth.  Child welfare departments can play an important role by using administrative data to identify the colleges that foster youth most commonly attend so that they know where to concentrate resources. Many of the foster youths who made it to college will likely face difficulties in adjusting to college-level work. Thus, it will be critical that foster youths are linked with adequate academic support.

Finally, the amount of time youths remained in care past age 18 was significantly associated with both the likelihood of completing a high school credential and the likelihood of entering college. While these findings are promising, more rigorous research is needed to determine whether the findings reported in this Memo are replicated.

Recommended Citation
Okpych, N. J., Courtney, M., & Dennis, K. (2017). Memo from CalYOUTH: Predictors of high school completion and college entry at ages 19/20. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Predictors of High School Completion and College Entry at Ages 19/20