A new program will offer financial assistance to help cover college expenses for hundreds of New York City students in foster care.
The College Choice initiative, announced Tuesday by Mayor Eric Adams and Jess Dannhauser, commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, aims to improve educational outcomes and ensure the city’s foster youth lead “healthy, productive and self-sufficient adult lives.”
The city will invest $10 million into the new initiative. It will cover annual costs of up to $15,000 in tuition for each eligible full-time college student in foster care, picking up expenses not otherwise covered by financial aid. The city will cover these costs at public and private universities nationwide, including two-year and four-year academic programs.
“Essentially, this new program means that a young person in foster care can attend the college of their choice without having to worry about the financial nightmare,” Dannhauser said at a Tuesday press conference.
College Choice will also cover room and board, and provide students with $60 each day for food and other expenses. The daily funds will remain available for up to six months after graduation.
The program starts with this current academic year.
“None of our students are coming out of pocket this year,” Dannhauser said.
Sanjida Afruz, a student who is currently participating in College Choice and attending the City College of New York, said during the press conference that she was able to pursue a dual bachelor and master’s degree in psychology with the financial help of the program.
But Afruz noted that for most foster youth, faced with aging out of foster care and worrying about how to survive on their own, college “seems like an impossible task.” With the city’s support, however, she said she was able to focus on her goals and her studies without the heavy burden of financial hardships.
“This program essentially says that young people in foster care can and should dream big,” Afruz said.
In announcing the initiative, Adams said he’s seen how the city has “abandoned” its foster youth.
“My North Star,” he added, “was to see a program like this.”
The assistance is now available to all those who are eligible, and so far 230 foster youth are already receiving the benefits for the 2022-23 academic year, city officials said.
Participants will also receive academic support from The New York Foundling — a 150-year-old nonprofit serving children and families. The agency will provide students with tutoring, career counseling and other services.
Eligible foster youth must have applied for financial aid, maintain a 2.0 grade point average and participate in academic tutoring, coaching or any similar support. The funds are available for three years for students pursuing an associate’s degree, and for five years for a bachelor’s degree.
Advocates have long stressed the importance of providing the city’s foster youth with the proper tools to succeed academically, well before they reach the college application stage. A recent study by a research arm of the mayor’s office found that in 2019, only one in four New York City high school students who had spent time in foster care graduated on time. Fewer than 25% of these high school students graduated within six years.
Foster youth struggle to pursue post-secondary education because of the frequent upheavals in their lives, struggles with past trauma, and a lack of support and resources. But funding for education and training can make all the difference.
Last month, the Urban Institute social welfare think tank found that by age 24, 85% of young adults in foster care receiving government-funded Education and Training Vouchers, or ETVs, completed a year of college, compared to just 61% who enrolled without such support.
“Even after controlling for young adults’ characteristics, child welfare history, age of enrollment, and type of school, young adults who had received ETVs were still more likely to persist in and graduate from college,” the report stated.
The newly announced New York City initiative is built on a year-round housing program that has existed since 2016 known as “The Dorm Project,” which provides housing and academic support to foster youth attending schools within the City University of New York network. College students in foster care in that program receive a $31 daily stipend, roughly half of what will be offered under the College Choice model.
Tuesday’s announcement, Dannhauser said, “takes that program one big step further.”