Foster Care through College Pipeline on Display 

On Tuesday, California College Pathways — a consortium of charitable foundations, policy advocacy groups and college-based service centers for foster youth — will host its annual Blueprint conference in Los Angeles.

This year will bring together as many as 550 guests hailing from nine states, who will spend the day sharing information on how to help current and former foster youth get into, stay and complete college.

“It is just mind boggling,” said Yali Lincroft, a program officer at the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, one of the many organizations supporting the conference and the 15-year-old college pathways initiative. Lincroft mentioned that the first Blueprint conference back in 2009 had fewer than 100 guests. “The growth is just amazing.”

California is an appropriate setting for the gathering. Since 2008, the Golden State has seen an explosion of efforts to support foster youth as they weave their ways through the hurdles of getting in and getting through college, as tuitions have risen and public institutions have grown more crowded. Most recently, a state law that will grant $15 million to community college campuses to bolster their programs for foster youth is on the eve of implementation.

In 1998, Cal State Fullerton became the first California college to create a program aimed specifically at foster youth. In the years since, first the Stuart Foundation and then the Walter S. Johnson Foundation invested in expanding similar programs throughout the state. Today more than 80 campuses – whether four-year, community college, public or private – have a similar support system, and a total of nine foundations support the California College Pathways Initiative.

All this work set the stage for 2014’s Senate Bill 1023, which authorized the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to enter into “agreements with up to 10 community college districts to provide additional funds for services in support of postsecondary education for foster youth.”

To help give the Chancellor’s office the bandwidth to handle the new $15 million program, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation teamed up with the California Wellness Foundation and the Foundation for California Community Colleges to streamline implementation.

Jeff Kim, a program director with California Wellness, said that earlier results showing impressive persistence rates among foster youth who were given support, and a strategic shift by the foundation towards “increasing educational opportunities for resilient youth” made supporting the Chancellor’s Office’s efforts to accelerate implementation of SB 1023 a “win, win, win.”

Kim was quick to point out that there is still a lot of work to do to make sure the new program shows results, but “in terms of impact – if this works out well in the community college system, maybe that will encourage even more foster youth to aim for post-secondary education.”

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