A new study of young people who have been in foster care and are enrolled at community colleges in Illinois paints a dismal picture of their educational success, and researchers said they would expect similar results if studies were conducted in other states.
Released Monday by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, the study said such youths typically struggled in high school, leaving them ill-prepared for college-level work.
Moreover, they had little professional guidance to help them make the leap to college despite having even greater needs than other students because of the disadvantages they grew up with. In addition, they had little understanding of how financial aid works, making it even harder to finish school.
About 86% of the foster youth who went on to enroll in college did so through the community college system.
About 35% of youth who turned 17 while in foster care enrolled in college; of those, only 8% graduated with a degree or certificate. Enrollment numbers among former foster youth contrast sharply with recent national data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that found that about 63% of recent high school graduates ages 16 to 24 enrolled in college.
Based on interviews with Illinois students with a foster care background, researchers said the youth expressed a desire for greater support from their colleges, but the colleges had a poor grasp of who their foster students were.
Recommendations aimed at child welfare administrators included: minimizing school changes or disruptions, teaching youth about financial aid and removing barriers to their ability to access it.
“Although our study focuses on the community college experiences of young people in a single state who are or were in foster care, its lessons may be relevant to other jurisdictions that are committed to improving postsecondary educational attainment among this population,” the report concluded.