Methods: Data come from linked state and university administrative data and program level data from the Transition to Independence Program (TIP), a college access and retention program for college enrolled youth at a mid-western, four-year university between 2012 and 2016. The final sample included 156 foster youth that participated in TIP, 55 foster youth enrolled at the university who didn’t participate in TIP, and a stratified random sample of 435 non-foster care, 1st generation, low- income (TRIO eligible) students who were enrolled at the same university over the same time period. Pre- treatment imbalances across the sample (age at enrollment, race, gender, & transfer status) were controlled for using a propensity score matching process. Multinomial logistic regression was used to model the association between covariates and the three treatment conditions on college retention status.
Results: The students with lived foster care experience who did not participate in TIP were almost two times more likely to drop out of college than the students with lived foster care experience who were enrolled in the TIP program (odds ratio = 1.96; P< .05). TIP students were retained at the same rate as their non-foster, TRIO eligible, first generation, low-income peers. There were no statistically significant differences in dropout rates based on age of enrollment, transfer status, race or gender.
Conclusions: Participation in targeted campus-based support programs appear to increase college retention and graduation rates of students with lived foster care experience and may provide great promise for decreasing the disparities previous studies have observed between students from foster care and their non-foster care, low-income, college-going peers. The current study provides strong validation for the need to continue the national movement to expand state and federal policies that support investments in building and retaining targeted campus support program for college students with foster care histories. The current study also provides a model for partnership between universities and public child welfare agencies, and a rigorous program design that can be replicated and used at other U.S. institutions of higher education.