Students With Experience in Foster Care Can Go to College for Free in California

The College for Foster Youth Act passed as part of the state's budget.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on July 24, 2023
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  • Students with experience in foster care will soon be able to pursue a degree or certificate for free.
  • The state's budget expands the existing Middle Class Scholarship to cover these students' tuition, fees, and other expenses.
  • This program will cost the state $25 million annually.
  • It could go a long way in addressing access issues for this overlooked student population.

A college degree or certificate is more within reach than ever for California students with experience in foster care.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a state budget that promises to significantly increase college access for students with experience in foster care (SEFC). The state's 2023-24 budget expands the Middle Class Scholarship to cover tuition, fees, and other college expenses for SEFC enrolled in any University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) institution.

The expansion is modeled after the College for Foster Youth Act proposed by state Sens. Angelique Ashby and Mike McGuire in February.

Ashby celebrated the inclusion of her proposal in the state budget.

"Far too many foster youth want to go to college, and are unable to afford it," Ashby said in a statement. "For foster youth who have lost everything, this bill provides hope that they can attend college without crippling debt — taking one critical step toward our state's goal of making college attainable for all, and making foster youth the first to achieve debt-free college in California."

She added that the budget includes $25 million in ongoing annual funding to cover this aid for SEFC.

The Fostering Futures program within the Middle Class Scholarship will cover any additional expenses for SEFC after all other aid — such as Chafee Grants — have been applied. The program will apply to SEFC enrolled in an associate degree or certificate program at a community college or a four-year college or university, Ashby said.

College access is a major obstacle for SEFC, not just in California but across the U.S.

Of the more than 23,000 people who age out of the foster care system each year, approximately 80% hope to attain a college degree, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. However, historically less than 3% go on to earn a degree at any point in their life.

Campus support programs can go a long way in addressing reasons SEFC are unable to complete a degree. Covering tuition, fees, and other expenses may aid further in getting these students across the finish line.

The John Burton Advocates for Youth supported the College for Foster Youth Act.

Debbie Raucher, director of the John Burton Advocates for Youth's education initiative, told BestColleges in April that the proposal may be the key to bridging the graduation gap between SEFC and the broader student body. She said in California, just 11% of SEFC attain an associate degree by age 23, compared to 36% of all Californians.

Paired with existing campus support programs, she hoped the proposal would double the graduation rate of SEFC to 22%.

"This bill isn't happening in a vacuum," Raucher said. "It's building on all the work that's happened in the past."