Saturday 01 October 2011

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David Ambroz: Free-ish Solutions: Expanding College Access for CA’s Foster Youth

As simple as it sounds, the inability to get a required class could derail a foster youth’s future because they cannot afford to extend their college education. After overcoming every imaginable obstacle to secure a higher-education degree, foster youth are confronted with same reality as every other Californian: a system inundated with a tsunami of applicants and an ever-shrinking amount of state funding.

Even as qualified applicants, foster youth cannot get access to the classes they need to advance their education — and they drop out. Foster youth do not have the housing, the family support and financial assistance enjoyed by other students. Foster youth are permanently impacted by dropping out, and that is when their failure becomes all of California’s problem.

Foster youth want to go to college, in fact, over 70 percent of youth in foster care have a stated desire to go. However, only about 20 percent of foster youth make it, compared with 60 percent of all high school seniors. Perhaps most disturbing, only 2-3 percent of former foster youth will graduate from college with a four-year degree.

Under current California law, students who have served in the armed forces or are disabled are allowed to enroll early in classes at the California State Universities, UCs and Community Colleges. A current bill in Sacramento, AB 194 (Jim Beall D-San Jose) would extend this privilege to foster youth. This does not allow non-qualified foster youth to take the place of any other qualified student. This is a choice between two qualified students, one of whom represents the lowest achieving segment of our society.

The obvious and justifiable question to ask is, why would CA extend this privilege to foster youth and not other groups? There are compelling reasons, from both a moral and bottom line evaluation of the proposed law.

Foster youth are our children, all of us in this state. California has taken rightful action to dissolve their family structure, and that youth become the state’s kid. The state invests millions of dollars in each young person to educate, house and nurture them. Then, just as they are about to cross the finish line to secure a college degree, the state takes no affirmative action to make sure they do.

The comparison between cost is startling. Assemblymember Beall’s bill is revenue neutral (aka, near zero true cost). The cost for a foster youth that fails out, and becomes a burden to another government agency (prisoner, homeless, young parent) is tremendous.

The affected population of foster youth is miniscule, estimated between 1,500 and 3,000 former foster youth between the ages of 18 and 22. Compare this number to the 212,000 students attending the UC schools, 412,000 attending Cal State schools, and the approximately 3,000,000 attending the community colleges. The bill has the support of all three systems — along with bi-partisan support in Sacramento.

Foster youth are our kids, and the state should do everything possible to produce well-adjusted, contributing members of society. Assemblymember Beall’s bill would do that. In these economic times, financial concerns are paramount, nonetheless, a bill with near-zero cost and one that, in the long run, saves money should win the support of our representatives.

AB 194 now sits on Governor Brown’s desk, with bi-partisan support and a zero cost estimate; Governor Brown alone can give foster youth this leg up to succeed. The kids are watching.

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