College Enrollment and Graduation a Challenge for Former Foster Youth, Even with Extended Care

Foster youth entering adulthood have college aspirations like other young people their age. Unfortunately, for far too many foster youth, graduating from college remains an unfulfilled dream. An analysis of data from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (Midwest Study) suggests that extended foster care may help young people begin, but not necessarily complete, postsecondary education.

What we did

The Midwest Study followed more than 700 young people from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois as they aged out of foster care and transitioned to adulthood. Participants were surveyed at age 17 or 18, 19, 21, 23 or 24, and 26 about a range of experiences including education, employment, housing, justice system involvement and physical and mental health.

We compared the outcomes of the study participants from Illinois, where young people could remain in foster care until their 21st birthday, to the outcomes of their peers from Iowa and Wisconsin, where few young people were still in foster care beyond age 18.

What we found

Although young people in Illinois were more likely to have completed a year of college by age 23 or 24 than their Iowa or Wisconsin counterparts, they were no more likely to have earned either a two- or four-year degree.

Of the 502 study participants who were not enrolled in school, 37.5 % reported that at least one barrier was preventing them from continuing their education. Of those participants:

  • 40% said they didn’t have enough money to pay for school
  • 20% said they needed to work full time

Parenting responsibilities were also cited as a barrier to education, particularly for young women.

  • 24.5% of the young women who reported at least one barrier to continuing their education identified needing to care for children as the biggest barrier they face

What it means

Increasing college graduation rates among young people aging out of foster care will require substantive changes in both policy and practice. Examples include:

  • Expanding support programs that address the academic, social/emotional, and housing needs of college students who are current or former foster youth.
  • Extending eligibility for the federal Education and Training Voucher (ETV) program or for state tuition waiver programs so that former foster youth who need more time to graduate from college don’t become ineligible before they earn their degree
  • Extending eligibility for the federal Education and Training Voucher (ETV) program or for state tuition waiver programs to include former foster youth who postpone postsecondary education to focus on supporting themselves or caring for young children.
Recommended Citation
Dworsky, A. & Courtney, M. E (2010). Does Extending Foster Care beyond Age 18 Promote Postsecondary Educational Attainment? Emerging Findings from the Midwest Study. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
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