Reaching Out: Program Aids Foster Care Youth during College Years

MSU, a national leader in foster care research and outreach, has launched an innovative program to increase the number of foster care children enroll in college.

September 11, 2009

John Seita

The numbers paint a dismal picture. Though some 75 percent of the nation?s foster care children say they'd like to attend college, just 13 percent actually enroll -- and of those, only 4 percent graduate.

Michigan State University, a national leader in foster care research and outreach, has launched an innovative program to attack the problem.

Foster Care Alumni Services is a comprehensive initiative that offers assistance to MSU students in an effort to help them remain in school and ultimately graduate. Services include community mentoring, scholarships, care packages and help lining up everything from student employment to housing to financial aid.

There's even a summer camp for foster care children still in high school on what to expect in college.

"The MSU foster camp provides young people in the foster care system a chance to have new experiences, learn new skills, meet new friends and dream about a brighter future than the often dismal past that many have experienced," said John Seita, MAES scientist and associate professor of social work.

During the 2008-09 academic year, MSU identified and contacted former foster care youth attending the university, inviting them to register for services on a newly created Web site. Each student who registered was then contacted by a representative of the requested service provider.

In all, 209 former foster youth were identified and contacted. The program will continue annually as MSU reaches out to new students who indicate that they were in foster care on their federal financial aid forms.

MSU was the first university in the state to offer foster care alumni scholarships, and the program has grown to include an array of services. Foster Care Alumni Services is offered through several university departments, primarily the School of Social Work and researchers Seita and Angelique Day, both foster care alumni who now work to reform the foster care system.

Because Day lacked family support during her college years, she said she "just kind of jumped in blindly and figured it out as I went along."

"This program is designed to ensure that young people interested in coming to MSU don?t have to accept that challenge blindfolded," said Day, a research specialist in social work. "Young people coming out of foster care don't have parents or stable adults in their lives that they can go to when they are frustrated or overwhelmed in college -- and at that point they may make the decision to drop out."

Other participating MSU departments are the Office of Financial Aid, the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, MSU Extension, University Housing and the Department of Residence Life.

External support comes from the Capital Area United Way, Learn and Serve America, Michigan Campus Connect and the Comcast Foundation.

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