Abstract: Promoting College Success Among Young People with a History of Foster Care (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Promoting College Success Among Young People with a History of Foster Care

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Amy Dworsky, PhD, Research Fellow, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Economic trends have made postsecondary education increasingly essential to self-sufficiency. However, youth in foster care enroll in and graduate from college at much lower rates than their same-age peers. In response, a growing number of colleges around the country are providing students who are or were in foster care with wraparound services and supports to help succeed in school and graduate. Despite the proliferation of these programs, not much is known about their impact on college persistence or graduation rates. To address this gap, we conducted a formative evaluation to learn about the implementation of one college success program and to assess whether that program has the potential to be rigorously evaluated. This presentation presents findings from that formative evaluation and explores their implications for program development and future efforts to evaluate college success programs.

Our formative evaluation included both qualitative and quantitative components. During two site visits, we conducted interviews and focus groups to gather information about the program from multiple stakeholders including program staff, university partners, and students. We used this information to refine the program’s logic model, to learn about the program’s core components, and to understand the challenges the program has faced and the successes it has experienced. We also analyzed student-level program data and academic records. We used these data to examine the characteristics of program participants, their interactions with campus coaches, and their academic performance.

We found that program participants are more racially diverse and tend to have lower ACT scores than the general student population. Compared to other students, program participants also have lower retention and graduation rates and are more likely to transfer to another postsecondary institution. Although we don’t know what the outcomes of these program participants would have been in the absence of the program, their graduation rate is considerably higher than the graduation rates reported in the literature for young people who aged out of foster care. Students attributed much of their success to the support they receive from their campus coaches whose role is to help them make the transitions from foster care-to-college and from college-to-career.

These findings highlight the important role that meaningful relationships with adults plays in key transitions for young people with experience in foster care.