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.