Abstract: An Examination of Postsecondary Student Success for Foster Care Alumni Attending Community College (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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72P An Examination of Postsecondary Student Success for Foster Care Alumni Attending Community College

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Deaven Rodriguez, LMSW, Program Coordinator, University of Texas at San Antonio, TX
Richard J. Harris, PhD, Professor, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Megan H. Piel, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Cindy Alvarado, MSW, Child Welfare Research Coordinator, University of Texas at San Antonio
Background and Purpose: Although many youth aging out of care aspire to obtain a higher education degree, only 33% enroll in a two- or four-year institution, and less than 4% graduate with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree by age 25 (Watt et al., 2019), as compared to a third of the general population (NCES, 2019). Youth with foster care experience encounter complex challenges in their path to college, related to inadequate academic preparation, experiences of trauma, and placement instability (Piel, 2018). Enrollment in two-year community colleges may present a more affordable option and opportunities for remedial coursework to improve academic standing, before transferring to a four-year institution (Hernandez & Naccarato, 2010). Campus-based support programs are increasingly developing to support students with a history of foster care at both two- and four-year institutions, however far less is known about programs at two-year institutions, despite typically serving larger numbers of students with a history of foster care.

Methods: To better understand characteristics and academic success of students with experiences of foster care at two-year postsecondary institutions, this study utilized administrative data records for 54,510 students enrolled across five community colleges in a southwestern metropolitan area. In addition to descriptive analyses, bivariate and multivariate analyses were used to examine student success outcomes for subgroups within the sample, including: foster care alumni engaging with campus-support programs; foster care alumni receiving financial assistance through a tuition and fee waiver; and first-generation, pell-eligible students with no history of foster care.

Results: The overall sample was primarily female (57%; n=30,872), Hispanic (64%; n=34,677), first time in college (65%; n=35,456), and first-generation college students (76%; n=41,569). Six percent of the student population (n=3,372) identified as former foster youth, as indicated on their application for admission, financial aid data, or receipt of state tuition and fee waiver. Controlling for gender and race-ethnicity, preliminary analyses indicate students with a history of foster care who were engaged in campus-support programming and receiving financial assistance had lower GPAs but completed their first semester in academic standing at nearly equivalent rates to non-foster peers.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings suggest students with experiences of foster care have promising student success indicators at 2-year community college institutions. Enrollment of students who identify as foster care alumni remains a challenge, with only 6% of the overall enrollment over a 2-year period in this study. There is need for enhanced outreach and recruitment efforts to increase enrollment of students with a history of foster care in 2-year institutions, as well as increased supports to enhance the academic preparation for youth still in foster care. Campus-support programs may be able to enhance these efforts as well as increase awareness of opportunities for support and collaborative engagement in the community. The current study contributes to our understanding of policy and programming for foster care alumni, as local efforts continue to increase community collaboration and resources to support enrollment, retention, and graduation of foster care alumni at both two- and four-year institutions.