California: Only 3% of Former Foster Children Graduate College. Here's How Universities Are Working to Change That

"'When I was here at Cal State, I was homeless for three months,' Sharon Luisjuan said, looking west across the Cal State San Bernardino campus," the Orange County Register reports. "A former foster youth who had aged out of the system, Luisjuan beat the odds and earned a college degree with the help of CSUSB's Renaissance Scholars program. Cal State and University of California campuses offer such programs across the state. They provide former foster youths with educational support, peer support, counseling, housing assistance, financial support and even food."

"Luisjuan received her bachelor’s degree in English on Dec. 9, walking across the Coussoulis Arena stage at CSUSB’s December commencement ceremony.

... Only about half of foster youths graduate from high school, compared to 93 percent of their peers, according to a 2005 study by the National Foster Youth Institute.

It gets worse from there: Less than 3 percent of them go on to graduate from a four-year college. By comparison, more than 33 percent of non-foster students 25 years and older earn a college degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

... 'Foster-care alumni who have worked hard to get to college arrive with experiences of disrupted family and educational life, and most often, a minimal network of emotional and/or social support,' wrote Wendy B. Smith, an associate dean at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and the author of 'Youth Leaving Foster Care.'

'They may feel isolated, stigmatized by foster care status and reluctant therefore to share it, yet in need of connections and supports,' she said in her email. 'Undergraduate students often turn to their parents as they navigate their entry into college life and indeed, as they face challenges during the college years. For foster care alumni, there is often no important and reliable adult to turn to.'

In 1998, Cal State Fullerton created the Guardian Scholars program to fill the gap. The first program of its kind, it’s open to any student who has been a ward of the court or had a legal guardian and offers a full scholarship for program participants.

Right now, 40 students are getting full scholarships through the CSUF program, which also emphasizes community service and campus engagement. CSUF also has a separate, affiliated program that provides support for the 37 other foster youths on campus. Fifteen Guardian Scholars graduated last year, according to Deanna Merino-Contino, director of CSUF’s President’s Scholars and Future Scholars Program. Fifteen more are on track to do so this year, for a total of 162 graduates since 1998."

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Publication Date: 12/22/2017

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