People may think different things about a child when they tell them they are in foster care or are in the system. In today’s society, kids sometimes believe that once you are placed into the foster system, it’s simply because your parents didn’t want you. While some might think we live the perfect life being a foster kid, they don’t know the difficulties and challenges we face. One of those challenges is wanting to pursue higher education.
I’ve been in foster care for eight years now and have only been in college for three years. I’m currently in my junior year of college. When I tell people how my education is getting paid for, they think I got it easy. But they don’t know how hard I have to work and how hard I have to study to get the grades I need in order to continue to get my education paid for free. While in school, I’ve been getting my tuition and books paid for by a scholarship program through the New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency called New Jersey Foster Care Scholars, or embrella as they call it. The program provides tuition assistance as well as other financial assistance. They also pay for room and board, books, housing, and also personal things. But, in order to stay in the program and get full tuition assistance for the full four years in school, you have to maintain a 2.0 grade point average or higher. A lot of foster youth may not know about this program.
When foster youth start to apply for colleges, they start to also wonder how their education is going to be paid. Funding college is the main challenge, I believe, youth face when trying to pursue higher education. Yeah, there’s financial aid, but for kids that go on campus, financial aid only pays for half of the tuition. Then, the foster youth is going to have to worry about how the rest of their education is going to get paid. Youth in foster care don’t really have a lot of options when it comes to paying for school. The only choices they have is a scholarship, financial aid, loans, and/or paying out of pocket. For foster youth going to community college, it may be a little easier for them because tuition is much less than tuition for a four-year college or university. But when it comes to kids going on campus, it’s much harder. Nobody wants to worry about paying off loans or paying out of pocket, especially when they have other things to pay for, like bills. Worrying about funding makes some youth not even want to go to school anymore or pursue higher education.
Yes, I’m getting my education paid for. But, to be honest, I struggled to maintain my grades throughout my first two semesters of college because not only was I in school, but I was also working a full-time job and dealing with personal problems. That’s another challenge that foster youth face when trying to pursue higher education. They are handling too much at one time trying to balance school, work, kids, bills, and other personal issues they have going on. Managing to balance all these things at once while trying to pursue higher education can result in foster youth dropping out of school, failing classes, showing poor work ethic, and more. I, for one, tried to balance these things, especially now in my last semester before transferring over to another university. I’m handling a lot. I have my own apartment and have a lot of bills to pay. I also recently joined the military, so you can imagine what I’m going through right now. Foster youth also balance different aspects of their general well-being such as their mental health and physical health. Balancing all these issues at once can be very challenging.
Ultimately, foster youth need stability. While I was in foster care, I stayed in one stable home for six years. A lot of foster youth probably won’t experience that, which can become a challenge when pursuing higher education. When coming into the foster care system, you never know if your living situation is going to be permanent or temporary. Some kids jump from home to home which makes pursuing higher education harder because they don’t have a stable placement. Instability can mess with a youth’s mental health because they may feel that if they have no stable home, there is no point in trying to pursue higher education.
As advocates, case workers and social workers, we need to come up with more ideas to help foster youth achieve that dream of pursuing higher education. Not only will attaining higher education help foster youth, but it will also help them pursue their career in the future.