ED Working to Reduce Barriers to Postsecondary Access and Persistence for Students from Foster Care

Late last week, Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier issued a “Dear Colleague letter” to Financial Aid Administrators. This letter clarifies that extended foster care payments made by a state directly to foster youth are to be excluded when determining a student’s student aid eligibility and do not need to be reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  “Our intent is to reduce barriers in the financial aid process for students in foster care to ensure they are able to maximize their student aid benefits”, said Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier. “We know these students face many challenges as they transition into adulthood—and the financial aid process should not be one of them.”

Over 400,000 children and youth are in foster care at any time and about 20,000 emancipate (age out) of foster care each year. The majority struggle with their early independence and lack of postsecondary education and career preparation. There is clear evidence that youth from foster care are dismally underrepresented in education at all levels. Less than 50% of foster youth graduate from high school and only approximately 20% go on to any type of post-secondary education. With up to 70% of those in foster care desiring to go to college and only about 9 percent completing any postsecondary degree (with less than 2 percent completing a bachelor’s degree), increased attention to their financial aid and support needs is required.

The last few years have seen important policy, practice and advocacy advances that address financial aid, student support services, and system collaboration barriers for these underrepresented students. One such advance is The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-351). One provision of the Fostering Connections Act gives States the option to extend foster care up to the age of 21 as long as youth are enrolled in high school, post-secondary or vocational school, a job training program, or are working at least 80 hours per month. Research suggests an increase in postsecondary educational attainment associated with allowing foster youth to remain in care until they are 21 years old and the resulting increase in lifetime earnings associated with postsecondary education.

Annie Blackledge is a Casey Family Programs Senior Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education