Will SB307 Help Foster Youth Finish College?

August 11, 2023
Julie Harbutte and Lucy Johnson

An exciting new opportunity for foster youth with postsecondary education aspirations was announced last month (July) with Senate Bill 307 being signed into the state budget. This new legislation expands financial aid for foster youth to not only support the cost of tuition, but the cost of living as well! Although this marks significant progress toward supporting foster youth with postsecondary education attainment, barriers such as lack of a supportive network continue to hinder this population in earning their college degree. Children’s Institute (CII) has worked diligently with Transition Aged Foster Youth (TAY) for many years to support them in identifying their postsecondary educational goals and take the necessary steps to make their dreams a reality.

To help paint the picture of what it’s like for this population, we connected with a recent graduate from our foster youth program, Beatrice, to discuss her experiences during her first year of college and the challenges she faced.

“I do not want to burden my foster mother to provide transportation. It can be a lot.” said Beatrice. Although the college she attends is only about a 30-minute drive, it takes more than an hour and a half and multiple connections for her to get to campus on public transport.

One of the most significant barriers for foster youth in college is the financial resources needed for housing, transportation, food, the cost of books, technology, and supplies. SB 307 addresses this barrier by providing the additional financial support needed to ensure foster youth are successful in meeting their postsecondary education goals.

On a more relational level, foster youth haven’t yet honed self-advocacy skills, nor do they have consistent, supportive adults in their lives to advocate on their behalf. There are a multitude of resources and services both on college campuses and in the community, but this information isn’t always readily apparent. Foster youth need to both know about the existence of those resources and have the confidence to access them. Beatrice shared that even when a resource is shared, on occasion, she didn’t know how to utilize it and needed more hands-on support to take full advantage of services and programs she was entitled to receive. CII provides current and former foster youth with mentors who support learning how to identify and access needed resources. These mentors are trusted adults that assist TAY in navigating the challenges of postsecondary education.

“I’m going into my 2nd year of college, and I still feel like a freshman, because I’m not engaged,” said Beatrice, “There are some people from my old high school that I go with, and even though we are in the same campus now, I still don’t interact with them. I see them through social media, and they are in their dorm and hanging out with people. I feel like I should have ‘dormed,’ but at the same time, growing up, I have always been around family.” Building community and networking is a vital part of the college experience, but many foster youth face financial challenges surrounding reliable, stable, and safe housing in between college semesters when many dorms are closed.

CII has served almost 300 current and former foster youth in South Los Angeles County between July 2022 and June 2023 in meeting education, employment, and housing goals. CII mentors meet with youth individually and in group settings to provide targeted support around postsecondary education goal identification and attainment. Our mentors support students in researching the best education fit, whether that includes vocational programs, community colleges, or a four-year university. Mentors support with the application process and even the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

We see these outcomes as a result:

  • 83% of High School Seniors enrolled in CII’s TAY program earned their High School Diploma in 2022
  • 87% of High School Seniors enrolled in the program applied to postsecondary education in June of 2022 and 2023 Compared to California
  • 70% of foster youth earned their High School Diploma by age 19
  • 56% of foster youth were enrolled in an educational program at age 19
  • 58% of foster youth earned their High School Diploma by age 19
  • 48% of foster youth were enrolled in an educational program at age 19

We asked Beatrice what advice she would give other foster youth starting their college journey. She encourages youth to take the opportunity to live in the dorms in order to develop meaningful relationships with peers. She also recommends making time for life on campus, such as clubs to decrease feelings of isolation and get the full college experience.

We need to continue to make efforts to identify barriers impacting foster youth earning their degrees and taking full advantage of the experience they worked so hard to attain, and ensure we create a collaborative effort to effectively overcome those barriers. California continues to progress toward equipping foster youth with the tools to succeed in college. Children’s Institute, and other community-based organizations support foster youth in accessing the resources and support to ensure foster youth have every opportunity to achieve their dreams.