Abstract: Foster Care, Academic Preparedness, and College Enrollment (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

Foster Care, Academic Preparedness, and College Enrollment

Friday, January 13, 2023
Hospitality 2 - Room 444, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Sarah Font, PhD, Associate Professor, Pennsylvania State University, PA
Background and Purpose: It is often stated that most youth in foster care want to attend college, but few ultimately enroll. Yet, those assertions are often based on decades-old surveys of the small subpopulation of youth who will age out of foster care and do not compare youth with foster care histories to other vulnerable populations. This study seeks to provide an updated assessment of rates and predictors of college enrollment in this population.

Methods: Using linked administrative records from Wisconsin, 9,800 youth born 1995-2000 who entered foster care in the 2000s are assessed for secondary and post-secondary education using administrative records. I will first estimate “college-readiness” (based on high school coursework, ACT scores, and on-time high school completion) among youth with foster care histories. For each group, I then estimate the conditional probability of college enrollment, overall and by level of academic preparation. Lastly, I attempt to assess the utility of policies that specifically target youth in foster care at or near the time of high school completion by evaluating academic preparation and college enrollment patterns among youth with different timings and durations of foster care exposure.

Results: Preliminary findings show that 25% of children with foster care histories enrolled in college; rates were higher among those who entered foster care at age 10 or younger. The probability of college enrollment was higher among children aging out of foster care (30%), placed in permanent guardianship (30%) or adopted (37%) than among youth who were reunified (25%). Differences are partially but not fully explained by high school completion gaps: among those who received a high school diploma, rates of enrollment were similar for adopted youth (49%), youth aging out (46%) and youth in permanent guardianship (46%), and modestly lower for reunified youth (42%). Among those who enrolled in college, approximately half were enrolled full-time, and over one-third were enrolled at four-year institutions. Planned analyses prior to the SSWR conference will include assessment of test scores and other indicators of academic preparedness for college, and compare youth with foster care histories to other vulnerable populations (those with suspected child maltreatment exposure but no foster care).

Conclusions and Implications: Significant proportions of youth with foster care histories enroll in college and reunified youth - far more than prior estimates indicated. Aging out of care does not appear to present any more of a barrier to college enrollment than reunification or permanent guardianship. The results of this study will inform the potential reach and utility of policies that seek to break down barriers to college enrollment (e.g., tuition waivers) specifically for youth in foster care versus the broader population of child welfare systems-involved youth.