California Counties Rewarded for Signing Foster Youth Up for College Aid

Fresno County won the medium county category of the Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge. (Photo courtesy of John Burton Advocates for Youth)

Four California counties were recognized at the California Foster Youth Education Summit for their efforts to help foster youth get financial aid to attend college, as part of the inaugural Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge.

Fresno, San Diego, Sonoma, and Yuba counties each received a check to be used for services that support foster youths’ successful transition into college.

Led by John Burton Advocates for Youth, the contest encouraged counties to help high school seniors who are in foster care fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which helps connect prospective college students with grants and loans.

“Over 90 percent of foster youth say they aspire to go to college,” said retired Sen. John Burton, who founded the organization behind the challenge. “Having someone to guide you through the seemingly simple effort of completing the FAFSA, and then receiving the resources to actually pursue a post-secondary education, can be a life-changing event.”

Each foster student from the winning counties who submitted a FAFSA as part of this contest is also entered into a drawing to win a $500 scholarship.

The Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge was developed to help foster youth tap into millions of dollars that they may not know they’re eligible for, according to Debbie Raucher, project manager for John Burton Advocates for Youth.

Only 8 percent of former foster youth in California earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree by the time they turn 26, according to a University of Chicago survey study.

“This campaign has even exceeded our expectations,” Raucher told The Imprint. “In terms of the level of engagement, counties really starting to create processes that will exist long past the campaign.”

Yuba County set the curve, winning the very small county category with 100 percent of eligible foster youth completing the FAFSA application. Sonoma County, which won the small county category, completed applications for 85 percent of its foster youth.

In the medium-sized county category, Fresno took the top spot, with 83 percent of eligible youth applying; and in the large county category, San Diego County won with  65 percent. Winners in the small and very small county category each received $500, while the medium and large county winners received $1,000 each.

These awards are the first of two rounds. The winners honored today had the highest rates of application for FAFSA’s priority deadline. A second set of winners will be announced after FAFSA’s final deadline in May.

This article has been updated with additional information. 

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