Tuition waivers are helpful resource for youth in foster care

Youth in foster care face many challenges. They are disproportionately low-income and often lack the emotional support that parents and other family members give to their non-foster care peers. Those that choose to enter a post-secondary education program enroll in and graduate from college at lower rates than their low-income peers.

“Without a college degree,” said School of Social Work Assistant Professor Angelique Day, “young people from foster care have limited job opportunities, drastically reducing their lifetime earning potential.” Day and fellow researcher Liliana Hernandez, a board member with the Virginia Children’s Trust Fund, recently published their findings in the digital journal Youth Today.

Day specializes in studying foster-care youth, focusing on the differences in college retention rates between foster-care youth and other low-income first-generation college students, and examining “youth voice” and its impact on child welfare, education and health policy reform. 

According to the team’s research, nationally 5 percent of foster-care youth surveyed at age 21 had received a vocational certificate; an even lower figure — only 3 percent — had received an associate’s, bachelor’s or higher degree. 

Washington is one of 27 states that have created programs to waive tuition and fees at public colleges and universities for eligible foster-care youth. But these programs vary dramatically state by state in terms of which students are eligible and which classes can be waived. 

Some states require that the waivers be used within a certain time frame, severely impacting outcomes for foster-care youth. About 26 percent of youth in foster care receive their degrees within six years compared to 56 percent of their non-foster care peers, yet some state waivers, along with some federal financial aid such as Pell Grants, must be used within six years or 12 semesters.

Given this data, Day and Hernandez recommended that more states create waiver programs for this population and that more consistent guidelines be implemented to help foster-care youth transition successfully from high school to college and into the work world. The pair also recommended that tuition waivers include housing assistance for these youth.

The concept of waivers is not new: All states have tuition waivers for children of veterans who lost their lives in the line of duty, active members of the National Guard, unaccompanied homeless youth, deaf students and state employees.