Abstract: Effectiveness of Campus-Based Support Programs (CSPs) on College Persistence for Transition-Age Youth in California Foster Care (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

Effectiveness of Campus-Based Support Programs (CSPs) on College Persistence for Transition-Age Youth in California Foster Care

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Mark Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Nathanael Okpych, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Sunggeun (Ethan) Park, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI
Background and Purpose:

Although youth with foster care histories have similar aspirations as their peers to complete college, several studies have found that they are less likely to enroll and persist in college (e.g., Geiger et al., 2018). Campus-based support programs (CSPs) are promising programs to address gaps in college outcomes for foster youth. CSPs are located in 200+ colleges across the U.S. and provide hands-on assistance with logistical, financial, social, and academic barriers to college students with foster care involvement. Despite their potential, little research has investigated CSPs’ impact on college persistence. This study builds on the limited knowledge base to investigate whether attending an institution with a CSP increases foster youths’ expected odds of persisting.

Methods: The sample for this analysis includes 31,108 youths who were in California foster care after age 16, turned 18 between 2006 and 2016, and enrolled in a California two- or four-year college by their 21st birthday. The sample was drawn from California child welfare administrative data, and information on youths’ postsecondary persistence was obtained from National Student Clearinghouse records. The main outcome is a binary measure of persistence, indicating whether youth persisted through their first two consecutive semesters by their 21st birthday. The independent variable was a binary measure of whether the college campus had an active CSP at the time the youth had enrolled, which was collected from publicly-available data and CalYOUTH Study outreach to colleges. To estimate the association between attending a college with a CSP and the odds of persistence, we ran a fixed-effects multivariate logistic regression model that controlled for youth-level characteristics (i.e., demographics, foster care history, maltreatment history, documented disability), the college youth enrolled in, and time effects (i.e., dummies for the year youth first enrolled).

Results: Overall, 46% of the youth persisted through their first two semesters. The persistence rate significantly differed by college type (66% in 2-year public colleges, 38% in 2-year private colleges, and about 90% in 4-year public and private colleges). CSPs were primarily available in public colleges. In 2017, CSPs were available at 72% of two-year public colleges (versus 5% in 2005), 91% of four-year public colleges (versus 22% in 2005), and 10% of four-year private colleges (versus 0% in 2005). No two-year private colleges offered CSPs. Across the study period (2005-2017), the persistence rate was higher for youth who enrolled in a college with a CSP than youth who enrolled in college without a CSP (71% vs. 67%, p<.001). However, results from the fixed-effects multivariate regression model did not find a statistically significant difference in odds of persistence for youth attending CSP and non-CSP colleges (Odds Ratio=0.93, p>0.10).

Conclusions and Implications: This study confirms the findings of prior research regarding the poor average college persistence rates of youth with foster care histories, providing justification for the development of campus-based supports for this population. However, our findings call into question whether the campus support programs for these youth that have operated for many years in California improve the prospects of college persistence.