Abstract: COVID Impact on College-Going Behavior on a National Sample of Foster Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

COVID Impact on College-Going Behavior on a National Sample of Foster Youth

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Liberty Ballroom I, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Angelie Day, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
John Fowler, Phd Student, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Alanna Feltner Williams, MPA, MSW, Research Scientist, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Sixto Cancel, CEO, Think of Us Global, DC
Background and Purpose: In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused higher education to enter emergency distance learning. Many governments responded by ordering institutions of higher education to cease face-to-face instruction for most of their students, requiring them to switch, almost overnight, to online teaching and virtual education (Daniel, 2020). Although the pandemic has disrupted educational pathways for all students, youth from foster care have experienced the biggest setbacks. Unlike their peers, youth from foster care often have fewer support networks or safety nets to turn to in a time of crisis. The sudden closing of college campuses created a lot of uncertainty and emotional stress for foster youth. The current study was designed to better understand the specific setbacks foster youth experienced during the pandemic, as well as identify any protective factors these college-going youth experienced to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their educational well-being.

Methods: A secondary analysis was completed on survey data collected through a micro grant program offered by Think of Us Global to support foster care youth facing economic challenges during the pandemic. This cross-sectional survey data was collected in November 2020 over a three-week period. The final sample included 7718 foster youth who were enrolled in a post-secondary program as of March 2020, right before the pandemic hit. Multinomial logistic regression was used to model the associations between the covariates (sexual identity, race, gender, parenting status and housing condition) on college enrollment status (full-time college enrolled, part time college enrolled, certificate/vocational program enrollment, left school) from pre-COVID through the pandemic.

Results: Foster youth who were enrolled in school part-time and those in certificate/vocational programs were significantly more likely to drop out during the pandemic crisis than foster youth enrolled full time pre-pandemic (OR = 2.87; 3.39, P< .001). Students who lived off campus, identified as African American, and those who identified as parents were also more likely to leave school during the pandemic (OR= 2.33, 1.24, 2.45, p<.001). Protective factors that lowered the odds of dropping out included being Hispanic or Latinx (OR=.70, p<.001), and being female (OR=.77, p<.001). Sexual identity was not a significant predictor of leaving school; however, during the pandemic, students who identified as LGBTQ were 1.5 times more likely to move from full to part time status (OR=1.52, p<.05).

Conclusions: Students who were enrolled in school full time and living in on-campus housing pre-pandemic experienced the greatest stability in education enrollment during the pandemic. The ability to maintain engagement in campus community life including living on campus during the pandemic appears to have been a large protective factor for foster youth in promoting their educational well-being during the pandemic crisis.