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Chris Bennett Klefeker, First-Generation College Student Advising Interest Group Member

Chris Bennett Klefeker.jpgFoster Care Alumni are an often overlooked student subgroup within the First Generation student population. Within a given year, the number of foster youth who emancipate grows by more than 26,000 individuals who are demographically 52% male, 32% black, and 19% Hispanic (US Dept Health and Human Services, 2008). Foster Care Alumni are individuals who were part of the foster care system while under the age of eighteen. Once they emancipate, otherwise known as “aging out,” their chances for success are extremely bleak. Just 44% of this population graduate from high school (Martin, 2003); only a dismal 2% earn a bachelor’s degree, which is in contrast to 24% of young adults in the general population (Pecora P. et al., 2005 p. 36). In a time where a college degree or a postsecondary training certificate is a way to end the cycle of poverty and broaden life choices, it is discouraging to see an entire population of disadvantaged students left behind. This is not a case of potential students not desiring to attend college. Rather, Martin (2003) found that 70% of polled Foster Care Alumni high school graduates expressed a desire to attend post secondary institutions, with Casey (2003) noting that only 13% actually enrolled (p. 22-23). However, with less than 3% of this population obtaining a degree, obviously there are other factors that need to be addressed.

This is a retention issue. As we know, advisors play a key role in helping students persist and succeed. Advisors on commuter campuses or at community colleges are the primary point of contact for students who are Foster Care Alumni. Advisors can advocate for these students, connect them to vital campus and community resources, and follow-up with them to support their successes. In many cases, these students are an independent First Generation population without a support system. In a number of instances, they do not have reliable housing, medical care, or any academic role models. We, as advisors, are in a position to help them overcome institutional road blocks. We need to be more intrusive with this population through our outreach and interventions.

Many colleges have adopted specialized programs geared toward recruiting, retaining, and supporting Foster Care Alumni. At a number of institutions these programs are known as Guardian Scholars or Renaissance Scholars. These programs are generally located on residential campuses through a student services model. Sometimes, as in the John Seita Scholars program at Western Michigan University, scholarships are connected to the program (www.wmich.edu/fyit/index.html). Other successful models, such as in the Guardian Scholar program at Ball State University, do not include designated scholarships, but there is a central office with staff who provide programming and support for these students, including advocating for them in the areas of housing and financial aid (www.bsu.edu/ssrc/guardianscholars/ ).

It is important to note that there are models that incorporate academic advising centers in support of these students with little or no additional staffing or funding. The Academic Champions program offered through the Austin Community College system is one such example. All seven of their campuses have a designated academic advisor who ‘champions’ retention and program completion for these students. Each advisor is trained on foster care topics and meets with students exiting the foster care system (www.austincc.edu/fca/). 

Miami University is another example. Here Foster Care Liaisons are named at each of its four Ohio campuses. These liaisons meet with prospective students exiting the foster care system, offer priority emergency advising appointments, and advocate for these advisees when they encounter roadblocks along their college journey. Community resource packets have also been developed that allow advisors to share resources with any of their students in crisis, not just those emancipated from foster care (www.regionals.muohio.edu/fostercare). 

Check the Orphan Foundation of America (www.orphan.org)  and Casey Family Programs (www.casey.org) for further free resources, student stories, and statistics. Of particular mention is Casey Family Programs free book for postsecondary personnel:
Supporting Success: Improving Education Outcomes for Students From Foster Care. This is a step-by-step guide for working with Foster Care Alumni students and provides tips for establishing campus based support programs.

As is often quoted, students will not always remember every piece of information we share with them, but they will always remember how we made them feel. Advisors are in the position to empower a vulnerable population during one of the biggest transitions in their lives. Foster youth are everyone’s children, and therefore everyone’s collective responsibility. Let us step up to the plate and help our children realize their potential.

Chris Bennett Klefeker
Academic Advisor, Retention Specialist and Foster Care Liaison
Miami University Hamilton
[email protected]


Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2003). Connected by 25:  A Plan for Investing in Successful Futures for Foster Youth.  Retrieved August 17, 2009, from Annie E. Casey Foundation Web site: www.aecf.org/KnowledgeCenter/Publications.aspx?pubguid=%7B061111FD-7991-4BFE-A794-48E1A4354BCF%7D

Martin, J. (2003 ). Foster youth desire college, study shows, but face roadblocks to learning. News and Information, University Communications, Washington University in St. Louis, October 2, 2003.  Retrieved August 17, 2009, from the Washington University in St. Louis Web site: http://mednews.wustl.edu/tips/page/normal/452.html

Pecora, P., Kessler, R., Williams, J., O’Brien, K., Downs, C., English, D., et al. (2005). Improving family foster care:  Findings from the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study. Seattle: Casey Family Programs. www.casey.org/Resources/Initiatives/FosterCareAlumniStudies/NorthwestAlumniStudy.htm

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau. (2008). AFCARS Report: Preliminary Estimates for FY 2006 as of January 2008 (14). Retrieved September 2, 2009, from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport14.pdf

Additional Resources for Improving Higher Education Outcomes for Young Adults from Foster Care: A Selected Bibliography

Calderón, S.I. (2005). Foster care project promotes higher ed. The Stanford Daily, May 2, 2009. Retrieved August 24, 2009 from https://stanforddailyarchive.com/cgi-bin/stanford?a=d&d=stanford20050502-01.2.6&srpos=1

Higher education reform: Incorporating the needs of foster youth (2003). Casey Family Programs, Seattle, WA. Retrieved August 24, 2009 from www.casey.org (Enter “higher education” in the search box). 

Connected By 25: A Plan for Investing in Successful Futures for Foster Youth. (2003).   Basehor, KS: The Youth Transition Funders Group, Foster Care Work Group with the Finance Project http://www.ytfg.org/2013/01/connected-by-25-a-plan-for-investing-in-the-social-emotional-and-physical-well-being-of-older-youth-in-foster-care.

Davis, R. J. (2006). College access, financial aid, and college success for undergraduates from foster care. Washington, DC, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, July, 2006. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED543361.pdf

Cite this article using APA style as: Bennett Klefeker, C. (2009, December). Foster care alumni on campus: Supporting an at-risk first generation student population. Academic Advising Today, 32(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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