Child Welfare

Help Youth in Foster Care Transition Successfully to and through Higher Education

May 24, 2022 | Ohio

Help Youth in Foster Care Transition Successfully to and through Higher Education

Promising scholarships to students with experience in foster care tells them that they matter and the adults in their lives will do their part to help them succeed

May 24, 2022

By Kim Eckhart, KIDS COUNT Project Manager

Full-ride scholarships for students with experience in foster care (SEFC) will not only increase the number who aspire to attend and complete college, but it will help them achieve financial stability earlier. Ohio can make that promise by enacting “tuition waiver” legislation, which waives tuition, fees, room and board: the annual cost of attendance to any college in Ohio for SEFC, which is around $22,000 for public institutions and $46,000 for private according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Ohio trails the nation in outcomes for youth aging out of care – according to national data, at age 21, Ohio youth were less likely to graduate high school or get a GED, obtain employment, be enrolled in school, and more likely to be justice-system involved than their peers across the nation. Ohio is in the bottom 10% of states across each of these measures. 

The research is clear, the main barriers to higher education for youth are financial, preparedness, and aspirations. Students who know they can pay for college are more likely to aspire to attend. Aspiring to attend college motivates students to stay in school and keep their grades up. Reducing financial barriers increases the likelihood that a student will complete their degree. A recent study in Texas shows the students who take advantage of the state’s policy of waiving all tuition and fees for students with experience in foster care are 3.5 times more likely than their SEFC peers to graduate with a postsecondary education degree.

Caidyn Bearfield, a student with experience in foster care who will be graduating from Columbus State Community College in 2023, lends her expertise on the issue and why these waivers are important: 

“Nearly every fellow former foster youth that I have ever met relates to what I myself have endured: we were moved around extensively, often as a result of neglect or abuse experienced in a placement, and without much say in the matter.  If someone is unable to remain at the same high school, how are they supposed to be involved in the extracurriculars or have a competitive GPA and earn scholarships? Without scholarships or parent support, they must pay for college themselves. No one should have to choose between their present and their future.  I know from personal experience that former foster youth and other low-income populations are faced with this difficult question: do I want to pay my bills or continue going to school?  With the rising cost of rent, groceries, and gas, it is inevitable that more people will face this dilemma.  I wholeheartedly believe that everyone should be equipped with the resources to support themselves.  Offering full-ride scholarships to students with experience in foster care will create a strong foundation so they are not dependent upon assistance programs for the rest of their life.  Full-ride scholarships would be a life-affirming preventative measure to equip today’s foster youth to defy the statistical trends we have seen for so many decades and break the cycle.”

Existing programs provide a foundation to build higher education support for youth in foster care.

Federal funding is available to help pay for college for youth who have experience in foster care as teenagers. College financial aid offices help students access grants such as the Pell Grant and the Education and Training Voucher program (ETV), which combined, make up almost $11,895 per year (as of 2022-23 school year) toward a student’s cost of attendance. In addition, state funding is provided through the Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG) designed to help low-income students cover the cost of attendance. If the cost of attendance exceeds the amount available from federal funds, Ohio will provide $2,200 for state tuition and $3,400 for private tuition for the 2021-22 school year. ETV funding is a part of the federal Chafee Foster Care Independence program, which also provides for housing support through Ohio’s Bridges program and county children services agencies’ Young Adult Services. Unfortunately, because the funding allocation is insufficient, students can be shut out of this opportunity if they take advantage of the ETV funding.

Existing grants will be enough for students to attend community colleges and regional campuses. Tuition at other institutions exceeds the amount of existing grants. The following table shows examples of universities whose costs exceed the existing grants.  

2021-2022 School Year Tuition Room and Board Cost of Attendance Total support provided (Pell+ETV+OCOG) Remaining Balance
The Ohio State University $11,936 $13,352 $25,288 $14,095 $11,193
Ohio University $12,840 $11,862 $24,702 $14,095 $10,607
Bowling Green $12,342 $10,490 $22,832 $14,095 $8,737

The message to students with experience in foster care should be clear: the adults in their lives are committed to getting them to and through college if they decide on that path. Students should know at the beginning of their high school career as they begin to consider post-high school plans that they will be able to afford to attend the colleges they apply to. All youth should be equipped with the knowledge that the adults in their lives will do whatever they can to support their highest aspirations.

Other states are leading with their own promises and Ohio must do the same.

This May, Colorado will become the most recent state to pass legislation that provides full-ride scholarships to students with experience in foster care, closely following Mississippi, who passed legislation in April. There are 17 states that have had tuition waivers for over 10 years, with Texas having one of the oldest and most generous provisions. According to a study released in January 2022, tuition waivers in Texas, Nevada, and Florida rely on colleges to cover the cost of tuition and fees. Others, in California and Minnesota, rely on state funds to cover costs. Colorado has divided the costs between the state funds and institutions of higher education. Both Colorado and Minnesota cover the full cost of attendance, including not only tuition costs, but also room and board and other non-tuition costs for SEFC enrolled in college. 

 The legislation passed in Colorado includes fiscal analysis that serves as a helpful guide to estimating the costs of tuition waivers. The first step is to estimate the number of students who would be eligible, then apply an estimate of the percentage that would participate, which was 15% in that case. Finally, they estimate the percentage that would choose different types of colleges: two-year, four-year and private. The amount estimated is only the remaining balance after other grants are applied. In the case of Colorado, the total costs are to be shared between the state general fund and institutions of higher education, at $2.6 million each.

The cost of tuition waiver policy depends on how broadly eligibility is defined. A recent story by an SEFC who aspired to attend Rutgers University demonstrates why broad eligibility definitions that apply to students from other states and older students is the best approach. Eligibility for the federal ETV program is limited to students under age 26, while in Texas, if a student begins using tuition waivers by age 26, there is no upper age limit and students can earn higher-level degrees.

Over the last several years, and even before the pandemic, Ohio had funding left at the end of the year from unused OCOG grants to provide at least some scholarships to SEFC. For example, in 2019, the legislature appropriated $100.8 million for OCOG grants, but the actual amount distributed was $97.7 million. During the pandemic, the amount of OCOG funding left on the table grew to $60 million, which would cover a $10,000 scholarship to 6,000 students with experience in foster care.