Methods: Youth (aged 18-25) experiencing homelessness (N=1,426) were recruited and surveyed via service venues (shelter, drop-in, and transitional housing) across seven cities (LA, San Jose, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, St. Louis, and New York) using a self-administered, anonymous, quantitative survey. A multinomial logistic regression model assessed demographics (i.e., race, gender identity, sexual orientation), system involvement (i.e., child welfare, juvenile justice) and homelessness history (i.e., age first homeless) as correlates of educational attainment (i.e., none [reference category], GED, high school diploma, or some college).
Results: The sample was diverse racially/ethnically: Black (37%)/Latinx (17%)/White (19%)/Multiracial (16%)/other (11%) and regarding gender identity: cisgender male (59%)/cisgender female (34%)/transgender/gender expansive (7%). Overall, 30.8% of the sample attained no educational milestone, 14.8% earned a GED, 37% completed high school and 17% attended some college. Youth who became homeless at older ages had increased odds of attaining a GED (OR= 1.07 p<.01), high school diploma (OR= 1.06, p<.01), or some college (OR= 1.12, p<.01) compared to no education. Additionally, youth who were not involved in the juvenile justice system were more likely to attain a high school degree (OR=2.03, p<.01) and to attend some college (OR= 1.78, p<.05), and youth who had no history of foster care were more likely to have attended some college (OR= 1.68, p<.05). Finally, youth who identified as transgender/gender expansive were more likely to attend some college (as opposed to no educational attainment) relative to cisgender male (OR= 2.00, p<.05) and cisgender female (OR= 1.92, p<.05) counterparts.
Conclusion: Results show that foster care and juvenile justice involvement was shown to be associated with lower levels of educational attainment. It is concerning that even with services supporting education and policies providing support to assist with college tuition, system-involved youth showed lower levels of educational attainment in higher education. Greater support for providers to support youth in connecting to resources for college attendance is recommended. Furthermore, young people who experience homelessness at an early age might also benefit from better supports and services to attain educational milestones, given they are disconnected from conventional educational systems early in their trajectory. That young people who identify as gender expansive were more likely to seek college education demonstrates great resiliency despite considerable barriers to education. Gender-inclusive policies and practices to support youth with unstable housing while they are in college may support these young people in achieving degrees in higher education.