Promoting Degree Attainment Among Former Foster Youth

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Background and Focus on the Future

Helios Education Foundation is committed to ensuring students realize their fullest potential through education. Our partner, Educate Tomorrow, is committed to providing educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth in Florida. In this insightful education brief, Helios and Educate Tomorrow explore data related to postsecondary opportunities available to Florida students preparing to "age out" of the foster care system. Jointly, we wanted to understand the programs and supports available to these students and identify any trends or impacts that education policies and practices may have upon postsecondary persistence and completion.​ 


The Challenge

Less education translates to:

  • lower wages
  • higher unemployment
  • living below the poverty line as adults


  1. Graduation from high school (Foster Care: 46%; General Population: 82%)
  2. Enrollment into college (Foster Care: 20%; General Population: 66%)
  3. Obtain a 4-year degree (Foster Care: 3%-11%; General Population: 32%)

Florida's initiatives to offer support post-secondary education:

  1. Implement policies and practices
  2. Pay the direct costs (tuition and fees) of higher education
  3. Provide students with:
    • Academic supports
    • Peer networks
    • Mentoring coaches
    • Financial resources
    • Housing
  4. Increased collaboration with:
    • Department of Children and Families (DCF)
    • Florida Department of Education (FDOE)
    • State University System of Florida Board of Governors (SUS)
    • Florida College System (FCS)
    • Florida Law Enforcement

Creating Equitable Outcomes

Florida state policy leaders and higher institutions of education need to prioritize:

  • Having dedicated coaches for foster youth on each college/university campus
  • Improving processes and uses of the tuition, fees exemption, and other policies
  • Improving communication and support college coaches
  • Supporting enrollment of foster youth



Appointed Dedicated Coaches


Provide funding for dedicated, on-campus support.


Employ a paid professional coach focused on foster youth to:

  1. Teach how to use the DCF tuition exemption
  2. Ensure the students get enrolled
  3. Know how to access information
  4. Get additional support when needed

Improve Consistency


Eliminate barriers for students trying to use exemptions.


  • Provide more clarity for the types of degrees that are included.
  • Establish policies that are consistent across all institutions.

Improve Communication


Create data systems for support and coaches to assist students to succeed.


  • Provide extra support to ensure students are aware of all benefits offered
  • Issue notifications to coaches to allow them to immediately start supporting eligible students
  • Implement a process to automatically transfer data from agencies to the universities
  • Allow for monitoring and tracking successes at the state-level

Increase Support


Create a structure for a complete support system.


Identify a trusted organization that will:

  • Collaborate with the knowledge and expertise to provide technical assistance
  • Develop and analyze data
  • Lead the collaboration of advocacy and research efforts

Legislative and Policies


Nearly all the major federal and related state laws concerning foster youth transitioning into their adult lives have been enacted during the past three decades.

  • 1967 - Foster care became mandatory across all states when Congress amended the Social Security Act.
  • 1986 - The Independent Living Program allowed funding to become available for states to help older foster youth transition from foster care to independence.

  • Figure 1 - The 28 states that currently have tuition assistance programs for foster youth.

Policies related to funding for post-secondary education vary by state. Most higher education funding and support for foster youth come from a mix of federal and state funding and legislation. Most recent initiatives focus on providing students with wraparound support services in higher education institutions. Given that the types of supports differ across the country and states have leeway executing policies, classifying these legislative efforts can be difficult. 

Federal Support

John H. Chafee Foster Care Program

  • Originally the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999
  • Goal: Help states improve the lives of foster youth with education, employment, financial management, housing, emotional support and care.
  • Annual allocation: $140 million to states

Educational and Training Voucher Program (ETV)

  • Established in 2002 - Expansion of the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program
  • Allows each state to provide vouchers a maximum of $5,000 annually to offset higher education enrollment costs.
  • The amount awarded is based upon unmet financial needs toward tuition, room and board, books, student loan repayments, and living expenses.

Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act

  • Established in 2008
  • Extend federally funded programs for foster youths 18-20 years old
  • Aids in transitioning young adults from foster care into adulthood to help improve postsecondary enrollment.

lorida Support

Tuition and Fees

  • Established in 2002 - Exemption of tuition and fees for 4 years (8 semesters) with a GPA of at least 2.0.
  • Updated in 2010 to cover students until age 28.
  • New extension rules: No minimum GPA is required, no restriction on credit hours or semesters, must be admitted and remain enrolled in higher education.

Postsecondary Education Services and Support (PESS)

  • Provided for foster youth who have already graduated from high school or earned a GED and enrolled in a postsecondary or vocational school.
  • Students are provided a stipend of $1,256 per month for living expenses up to age 23.
  • Those eligible may live independently but must be enrolled in at least 9 credit hours (or vocational equivalent).

Best Practices and Programs


By 2014

  • Florida Reach was established
  • Supports the full-time DCF to lead the College Coach Project

By 2016

  • DCF contracted with Educate Tomorrow staff to administer the Positive Pathways Program.
  • Positive Pathways Program: Improve postsecondary educational outcomes for former foster youth.
  • Educate Tomorrow: Coordinates, develops and maintains a network of campus-based professionals.

Intentional Holistic Supports include

  • Assisting students in admissions and transition into campus life.
  • Priority academic and financial aid advising.
  • Identification and referrals to resources for safe and stable housing.
  • Promotion of well-being.
  • Advise and mentor for employment opportunities and internships.

AOK Scholars Program

  • Allocates an amount of emergency funding for each semester.
  • Offers a good grade bonus for students earning a 2.3 GPA or above.
  • Grants completion awards after earning an associate, bachelors or graduate degree.

Six Campus-based Support Programs

Miami Dade College (MDC)

Educate Tomorrow

  • Established in 2013
  • Appoints 2 Master-degree social work/counselor students as contacts
  • Participates in Unite Miami to coordinate high school transitioning
  • Won the Service Year Alliance Innovation Grand Prize in 2016

Tallahassee Community College (TCC)

Fostering Achievement Fellowship Program

  • Established in 2011
  • Assists 44 foster youth to transition
  • Offers individual and group support meetings
  • Creates educational plans

Florida State University (FSU)

Unconquered Scholars

  • Established in 2012
  • Promotes academic and life success services
  • Has a partnership with the Center for Academic Retention & Enhancement (CARE) Program
  • Awarded the "Model of Excellence" award in 2016

University of Central Florida (UCF)

Knight Alliance Network

  • Established in 2014
  • Led by a full-time director and peers
  • Provides resources to develop leadership skills and coping mechanisms
  • Awards recognition for academic success and community engagement

Florida Atlantic University (FAU)

Educate Tomorrow

  • Established in 2017
  • Designed for students from foster care or homelessness
  • Provides single-point-of contact coaching using the Appreciative Advising model
  • Offers access to special populations, first-generation support programs, career resources, and certificate programs

Florida International University (FIU)

Fostering Panther Pride

  • Established in 2013
  • Assists students with their transition, retention, graduation, and pursuit of employment
  • Offers a full-time program director and a success coach to serve as primary contacts for mentoring
  • Supports students with housing scholarships, book stipends, access to the food pantry, school supplies, move-in packages to name a few.

Trends and Analysis


The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), Over 437,000+ children are in foster care across the US. Over 24,000 children in Florida receive foster care services and annually, ~1,000 youths that turn 18, should pursue postsecondary education.

College System:

  • Utilized by 1,100 students in 2008
  • Enrollment tripled since 2008
  • Adopted by 3,800+ students in 2016-2017 school year

State University*:

  • Utilized by 338 students, in 2011
  • Increased to 514 by 2015
  • Continued to rise with 901 students in 2017

Racial and Ethnic Breakdowns

College System:

  • 70% are people of color or multiracial
  • 22% of black students are more likely to enroll

State University*:

  • 64% are people of color
  • Black students are overrepresented

Completion and Graduation

College System:

  • Increased 28% from 2013-2014 to 2016-2017 school years


State University*:

  • Increased 109% from 2013-2014 to 2015-2016 school year

*University Support Impacts - Important data is limited and not properly collected or reported to legislators or college/university presidents.

More Information

Leadership, Authors, and Contributors


Vince Riog, Founding Chairman
Don Aripoli, Ph.D., Director
Mark Fernandez, Director
Tom Herndon, Director
Paul J. Luna, President & CEO
Vada O. Manager, Director
Ioanna T. Morfessis, Ph.D., Director
Jane Riog, Director
Maria Sastre, Director
Steven Wheeler, Director


Amy Rubinson, Ph.D., Educate Tomorrow
Steve J. Rios, Ed.D., Educate Tomorrow
Racquell M. Perry, Esq., Educate Tomorrow
JR Fry, Educate Tomorrow
Paul Perrault, Ph.D., Helios Education Foundation


Tracy Adirika, Educate Tomorrow
Caroline Culmo, Educate Tomorrow
Virginia Emmons, M.S.Ed., Founder & President, Educate Tomorrow
Brett McNaught, M.S.Ed., CEO, Educate Tomorrow


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