Postsecondary education has been shown promote social and economic equality among many disadvantaged groups in the U.S. However, students who have experienced homelessness and non-traditional family care arrangements (e.g., foster care) experience significantly lower rates of college graduation than those from traditional families. An abundance of research has examined the outcomes and college experiences of students with foster care history; however, very few studies have explored what happens after these students graduate from college and to what extent postsecondary education as an intervention promotes greater equity. Little is known about the impact of campus support programs (CSP) designed for these students.
This mixed methods study examines the experiences of college graduates involved in a CSP serving students who have experienced foster care, homelessness, relative care, or ward of the state status. Students completed surveys at graduation, 6 months post-graduation, and one-year post-graduation. The sample was 56 participants who graduated between 2015 and 2020. Students were predominantly female (67%). Fifty-four percent were Black, 20% were White, and 11% were Latino/Hispanic. Data collected included demographic information, experiences in the CSP, and experiences after graduation. Descriptive analyses are presented along with thematic analysis of open-ended responses to better understand student outcomes after graduation.
Most participants reported post-graduation plans, including employment or graduate school; however, some did not have plans. A fifth (20%) of participants felt completely prepared; 46% felt fairly prepared for life after graduation; and 33% felt completely, somewhat, or not at all prepared for life post-graduation. Only 20% were completely confident they would find a job that they were suited for after graduation. Six months after graduation, half were in graduate school and 89% were currently employed. Only 16% felt completely able to pay their bills, and only 44% were paying student loans, with only 6% feeling completely able to pay their students loans. One year after graduation, participants’ responses were similar. Post-graduation, participants identified concerns related to money, starting over with few connections, and adjusting to working. To improve the CSP, participants suggested additional assistance to help them navigate life after college. Participants emphasized they could have been better prepared for life post-graduation in terms of planning, financial literacy, social support, and employment and graduate school. All participants identified CSP as being helpful.
Conclusion and Implications
CSPs can help increase student success during college and play a role in preparing for life after graduation when programming includes establishing plans and supports. Students may leave the university without skills and resources necessary to succeed. CSPs should ensure students are prepared in money management, networking, and life skill. Additionally, CSPs should help students plan and develop support systems prior to graduation. Students with history of foster care or homelessness may benefit from additional supports and resources that focus on life outside of college, which will promote social and economic stability and reduce inequities.