Thanks to a campaign by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), foster youth are accessing millions of additional dollars for college. In fact, JBAY’s FAFSA Challenge has been so successful that foster youth are now applying for college aid at far higher levels than their peers, after years of lagging behind them.
“My dream is to get a psychology degree and become a counsellor,” says Toby Herrera, a graduating senior at Palmdale High School in LA County. When a foster care liaison in Toby’s school district told him to identify as a foster youth on his FAFSA, he gained access to many additional resources, such as the Chaffee grant that provides up to $5,000 per year. “Discovering all the resources available to foster youth through FAFSA has brought my dream closer to reality for me.”
While 85% of foster youth say they aspire to go to college, fewer than 8% achieve a bachelor’s degree by age 26, compared with 46% of the general population. The FAFSA Challenge helps foster youth overcome one of the biggest barriers to their college dreams. Studies have shown that 90% of high school seniors who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) go on to enroll in college within 12 months, compared to just 45% of high school seniors who do not complete the application.
In 2017-2018, the first year of the challenge, just 45% of eligible foster youth submitted their FAFSA. The completion rate has grown to 64.5% for 2019-2020, exceeding the 56.6% rate for all California high school seniors.
There were big improvements all across the state; for example Los Angeles County, where Toby Herrera goes to school, has more than doubled its rate in just three years. This year, 613 out of 901 foster youth (68%) in LA County completed FAFSA, compared to 33% two years ago.
As a result of the success of the FAFSA challenge, JBAY is now advocating for legislation that would institutionalize this proven approach. California Senate Bill 860, authored by Senator Jim Beall, would improve FAFSA completion rates among foster youth. SB 860 was passed unanimously by the senate in June, and is now being considered by the state assembly.