Heading to college is confusing under the best of circumstances. But for many young people aging out of foster care, the challenges can be almost impossible to overcome.
Some schools in Texas host programs each year aimed at trying to help foster kids make the transition.
At Austin Community College in Round Rock yesterday, a group of about 10 prospective students toured the campus. Each had been through the foster care system in Texas. They got tips on everything from buying books to getting meningitis shots so they can go to college.
Joseph Anderson, a 19 year old, was among them. He says he never got this kind of help elsewhere.
"It’s actually very confusing because a lot of us don’t get talked to about it too often," he said. "We have to stumble upon it on our own so it’s a very helpful program."
Loretta Edelen said she hopes more people like Anderson will come to these sessions. Though about 23 people signed up for the first day of the workshops, far fewer showed up. She is the foster care alumni coordinator with Austin Community College.
"Today is going to be at Northridge campus," Edelen said. "We will focus on financial aid, what’s available through our system as well as the Baptist Children’s Services." Baptist Children and Family Services operates the state’s Education and Training Voucher program.
"That is for up to $5,000. And that money can be used for other costs related to school," said Michael Salazar with the Preparation for Adult Living Program of Child Protective Services. "Other costs not related to tuition costs like room and board, books. So they can utilize the money for that."
Foster care alumni in Texas also qualify for free tuition at two and four-year public colleges and universities. That’s if they begin their higher education by their 25th birthday.
Dominic Chavez with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board says in fiscal year 2010, there were 2,815 foster care students who received a tuition and fee exemption. "In fiscal year '11 that number was 3,608 and in fiscal year '12 that was 3,704. Over that three-year period, the number of students participating in this program increased by 32 percent," he added.
The number of people receiving help is rising. But Loretta Edelen with Austin Community College said foster care alumni face a wide range of challenges in getting to college.
"Once they have emancipated out of the system, quite a few face issues having to do with housing," she said. "Others have to do with basic transportation – how are they going to get one meal from the next. If they’re taking care of siblings ore maybe their own children. All of those are other kinds of issues they may be dealing with in addition to mental illness or mental health kinds of issues that would be the first things on their plate."
Studies have found the vast majority of foster children want to pursue an education beyond high school – but only a fraction of them actually do.