The biggest turning point in my life came the day I received financial aid for college. But for foster youths like me, the application process is not the same as it is for a student with a family. As a result, millions of dollars in aid is being left behind by California’s foster kids and too few are going to college.
Financial aid deadlines and eligibility standards don’t take into account that foster youths often are unable to go directly from high school to college as they age out of the system. That’s a big reason why just 9 percent of eligible foster youths receive a Cal Grant, the state’s largest financial aid program. Though more then 90 percent of foster youths express a desire to go to college, just 4 percent earn a bachelor’s degree, compared to 36 percent of young adults in their age group.
A new outreach program and a bill now in the Legislature can make a huge difference in making those college dreams come true.
The California Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge, an initiative by John Burton Advocates for Youth, helps schools reach high school seniors who are foster youths. Its goal is to bring the percentage of foster youths who complete the federal financial aid form at least equal to the overall percentage of high school seniors.
Senate Bill 940, introduced by Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat, would extend the Cal Grant application deadline for foster youths who want to attend community college, where 85 percent start their post-secondary education. It would also lengthen Cal Grant eligibility from four years to eight and from one year after high school graduation to age 26.
Going to college is a life-changing experience for anyone who has been in foster care. Foster youths are incredibly resilient, but need the opportunity to take that next step to help them realize their potential for a happy and productive life.
It has given me a voice and allowed me to earn respect, rather than sympathy, from the people who know my story. I attended San Joaquin Delta Community College, received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of the Pacific and am now earning a master’s degree in social work at the University of Southern California.
The FAFSA challenge has been a great start toward making the financial aid process more accessible to foster youths. By passing SB 940, the Legislature will give thousands of foster youths a new chance at going to college.