Abstract: College Outcomes and Experiences at Age 21 for Young People in Foster Care: A View from California (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

College Outcomes and Experiences at Age 21 for Young People in Foster Care: A View from California

Saturday, January 19, 2019: 4:00 PM
Golden Gate 7, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Nathanael Okpych, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Samiya Sayed, BA, Graduate Student, University of Chicago
Mark Courtney, PhD, Samuel Deutsch Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose:  Broad interest exists in increasing rates of college enrollment and persistence for foster care youth (Geiger et al., 2017). Important policy levers to support these outcomes include extended foster care and Educational and Training Vouchers (ETVs), which provide up to $5000 per year toward college costs. Additionally, a growing number of colleges have established support programs for foster youth, and this expansion has been especially robust in California. Little research has investigated these three supports. We draw on two sources of CalYOUTH data to evaluate the impact of extended care on college outcomes and describe participation in the ETV and in campus support programs. 

Methods: First, the state administrative data sample includes nearly 19,500 youth in California foster care between 2006 and 2016. National Student Clearinghouse data were obtained in 2016 to evaluate college outcomes. Linear probability models (LPMs) were used to estimate the impact of extended foster care on three college outcomes (enrollment, persistence through two consecutive semesters, and number of semesters completed) by age 21, controlling for demographic characteristics, foster care history characteristics, behavioral health problems, county-level factors, and college-level factors. Second, the longitudinal youth sample includes 616 21-year-olds who participated in the third wave of CalYOUTH. Youth were asked several questions about college enrollment, ETV receipt, and involvement in campus-based activities.

Results: In the LPM models, the college enrollment rate was significantly higher in the years after extended care was enacted in 2012 than in years prior to enactment (45.0% vs. 41.2%, p<.001), but no statistically significant differences were found in persistence rates or semesters completed. The impact of the extended care policy was explained by the number of months youth remained in care past their 18th birthday. Among longitudinal survey respondents enrolled in college, over half received an ETV (54.1%), a fifth applied for an ETV but did not receive one (19.6%), and the rest either did not apply (16.1%) or did not know what ETVs were (10.1%). 58.2% of foster youth in college participated in a campus support program, whereas 17.2% attended a college with a program but did not participate, and 24.6% were unsure if their college had a program. The most common difficulties youth faced during the transition to college involved balancing school and work (65.0%), organizing time and responsibilities (62.8%), completing coursework (44.7%), and navigating financial aid (44.0%).

Conclusions and ImplicationsFindings suggest that extended foster care has a positive impact on increasing college enrollment, but no impact was found for continuing in college. Common barriers reported by youth in the longitudinal survey included work responsibilities, organization, academic difficulties, and difficulty navigating financial aid. While more than half of youth in college received an ETV and more than half participated in campus programs, nontrivial proportions had either not been able to receive an ETV or were not aware that their college had programs. This calls for greater efforts to increase awareness of and access to these supports.