Higher education opportunities for foster youths are growing
Universities offer scholarships and assistance for unique needs of foster youths aging out of care
Feb. 20, 2008
Michigan's foster youths aging out of care will find it easier to pursue a college education thanks to a series of scholarships and other programs specifically geared to meet the needs of these young adults.
Foster youths can get help filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form at Wayne State University from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23 at the David Adamany Undergraduate Library, 5200 Anthony Wayne Drive in Detroit. This organization also offered free assistance to all students in filling out the application at 27 locations across Michigan on Feb. 10.
"This is one of the few locations in the nation that has a session set aside for the specific needs of foster youths," said Kate Hanley, director the Michigan Department of Human Service's foster care permanency program. "We want as many foster youths as possible to complete these forms so they can receive the financial support to reach their educational goal."
About 500 young people leave Michigan's foster care system each year. Studies show that, while 70 percent report that they aspire to attend college, only about 20 percent actually enroll and only a quarter of these students ever complete a degree.
"The needs of foster youths are vastly different from the average college student," Hanley said. "Former foster youths often become homeless when dorms close for the holidays. Even applying for financial aid presents a unique challenge for foster youths."
In addition to financial aid, Michigan universities are beginning to recognize the need for scholarships and other supports for foster children who are or have been in care.
The University of Michigan again is offering an average of $5,000 each year for undergraduates who have been part of the foster care system, are orphans or wards of the court. The Paul and Amy Blavin Scholars Fund, established in 2006, provided five young women support for college during its first year. The donors permanently endowed the scholarship in December and hope to expand the number of awards to as many 12 each year.
"The University of Michigan is committed to holding open its doors to students from all backgrounds, because their experiences enrich our academic atmosphere," U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said. "We are pleased to help foster youths with access to a transformative University of Michigan education."
Western Michigan University recently announced its Foster Youth and Higher Education Initiative to offer a series of support services for foster youths. The initiative includes the John Seita Scholarship, a four-year full-tuition award for qualified foster care youths who have aged out of care, as well as year-round, on-campus housing available for those students.
"At Western Michigan University, we are passionate about insuring that no segment of our society is kept from having access to higher education," WMU President John M. Dunn said. "With its broad range of programs, excellent faculty and strong support systems, we are well positioned to help these youths achieve their goals."
In April 2007, the Department of Human Services co-sponsored the first Foster Care-Higher Education summit at Albion College to help make colleges and universities more aware of the unique needs of foster youths transitioning out of foster care. There have been two follow-up summits at Madonna College and Western Michigan University and a third is planned at Central Michigan University this month. DHS also administers the Michigan Education and Training Voucher program, which allows youths who were in foster care on or after their 14th birthday to access up to $5,000 each year for educational expenses.
"I'm very grateful for the support and leadership Michigan's colleges and universities have shown for the youths in foster care," DHS Director Ismael Ahmed said. "Helping these young people become successful, productive adults will continue to pay dividends long into the future."