Bill to Help Homeless and Foster Youth Through College on Its Way

In early October, The Imprint highlighted a concerted effort by both homeless and foster youth advocates to amend the Higher Education Act to the benefit of these scholars.

On the evening of November 20th, The Imprint received word from staff in the Senate Budget Committee that Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) would be dropping a bill the following day.

While The Imprint hasn’t seen any updates to the legislation, the original thrust was to improve educational outcomes for those homeless and foster youth who make it to college by removing barriers to financial aid, making college more affordable and building up supports for college retention.

One important component mentioned in the reform package spearheaded by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) hinges on college readiness. As evidenced in a report released last month, foster youth, like homeless youth, face more obstacles on their path to high school graduation than their peers.

NAEHCY and a raft of co-signators, including the Alliance for Children and Families and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, called for amendments to the federally administered TRIO and GEAR UP programs.

“TRIO and GEAR-UP assist low-income, first generation students to become ready for college, access college, and complete college,” NAEHCY Director Barbara Duffield wrote in an e-mail before the legislation was submitted. “Youth who are homeless or in foster care are especially in need of these services, due to their lack of family support, history of trauma, and educational disruption. They need every bit of encouragement and assistance in order to make their dream of college a reality. Our recommendations –which are informed by our experience – will help remove barriers to TRIO and GEAR UP participation, including continued participation despite changes of residence.”

In an email on the evening of Nov. 20, a clearly excited Duffield wrote:

“I think of all the youth with whom I have worked directly, whose demoralizing struggles with financial aid I have witnessed – bright, resilient, brave youth who, through no fault of their own, ended up homeless, or in foster care. I think of all the calls and emails from service providers, schools, and advocates on behalf of youth who they were trying to help. And I think of all the colleges and universities who are pioneers in serving foster and homeless youth, piloting effective policies and practices. This legislation reflects their insight, their experience, and their hopes. Now it is our task to help it become the law of the land!”

Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of the Chronicle of Social Change. 

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