Graduating from college, or just attending college, seem like impossible dreams for foster children after they “graduate” out of the system at age 18.
A number of Texas House and Senate bills this session address college access for this population. Senate Bill 482, authored by Sen. Borris Miles (D), for instance, proposes that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services work with foster care transition centers to create a program that helps those in foster care earn a high school diploma and then either earn vocational certificates or take advantage of college tuition fees and waivers. House Bill 928 would assist foster children in the college admission process by providing specific information regarding tuition and fee waivers and help school districts identify foster children eligible for these waivers and also provide assistance in applying for financial aid and scholarships.
As a former foster child, and now the case manager for the Texas Woman’s University Frontiers Program which serve students who experienced foster care, I feel passing legislation expanding college access for those in foster care is key to raising college access and graduation rates for this population.
Many in foster care aren’t aware of the resources available to help them attend college, which both SB 482 and HB 928 would help address. Others are told, like I once was by a school counselor, that a job at a fast-food restaurant is all I should expect out of life.
Passing of these bills is good a start, but may not be enough for those who are only one crisis away from dropping out once admitted. The Texas Legislature also should consider bills or addendums that fund additional support services for foster children once they enroll in college to help them succeed.
Nationally, only 3 percent of foster children graduate from college. At TWU, more than 50 percent of our students who experienced foster care graduate. Some of that success is due to the support services we offer these students, including mentoring, on-campus family housing (many formerly in foster care are teen parents), and food pantry. We also offer a student lounge designated specifically for Frontier students, on-campus housing during holiday breaks, crisis counseling, and peer-to-peer support and activities like holiday meals, study opportunities and social outings.
Additional state support funding could help more Texas universities have a full time case manager like myself for their foster care students. The only way that I am able to do what I do full time is because of the generosity of a private donor that helps fund my salary.
Funds for another support service that should be considered by state lawmakers is access to an emergency fund for those unexpected life events that can be crippling to those without family support, such as a medical expenses, dental work, rent deposit, etc. While this type of support is funded through a private donor at TWU, it could be offered at more universities with legislative support.
If we truly want to help foster care children succeed as adults, we need to invest money and time, as well as advocate on their behalf. It doesn’t take much. Something as little as donating a grocery or gas gift card to get these individuals through the holidays or perhaps serving as a mentor, calling your legislator to advocate for increased funding, or sharing a kind word — truly makes a difference.
It did for me. I had friends and teachers who told me that I could be more than the fast-food worker that school counselor expected of me.
I am confident that we as a society can help even more former foster care children graduate from college, if we invest in the support services necessary for them to achieve success. If more universities were able to offer support services, more Texas foster care children would not only attend college, but also would thrive as students, graduate from college and thus change their lives.
Matteson is the case manager for the Texas Woman’s University Frontiers Program, which helps students who were in foster care succeed in college.