Wednesday, November 18, 2015

District awarded $1.2 million state grant to help students coming out of foster system

Students in Cuyamaca College's UP! Program
Students coming from foster-care backgrounds struggling to get through college will get much needed help, thanks to a $1.2 million grant the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District will receive from the state starting next year.

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors Monday approved the awarding of the grant to 10 college districts throughout the state. The East County college district is the only one in San Diego County awarded Cooperating Agencies Foster Youth Educational Support Program funds stemming from 2014 legislative action.

The legislation, SB 1023, allows the state chancellor’s office to enter into agreements with the community college districts to provide funds to support foster youth attending the colleges. Other college districts approved for the three-year $15 million funding in southern California are Allan Hancock, Coast, Los Angeles and Pasadena Area community college districts. The five other districts are from the Bay Area, Central, and Northern California.

“Funding these programs goes a long way in supporting some of the nearly 13,000 current and former foster youth who are enrolled in California’s community colleges,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris. “It provides students who might not have otherwise dreamed of higher education the tools they need to succeed.”

The grant supplements funds the colleges receive through Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), a state-funded program targeting educationally and economically disadvantaged students, and makes it possible for Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges to join together in their efforts to help ensure the academic success of some of the least prepared and most vulnerable of their students.

The funding is good news for Cuyamaca College’s Unlimited Potential (UP!) Program and Grossmont College’s Guardian Scholars Programs, which serve the students enrolled at the colleges who have gone through the county’s foster care system as minors. The new grant-funded program will target students who are taking at least nine units of classes and are under age 26.

The additional funding will allow the EOPS programs at the colleges to provide more comprehensive services, including specialized counseling and tutoring services, workshops in independent living, a summer bridge program with basic skills courses in English and math, assistance with transportation, meals and books, and housing referrals for homeless students. 

Because of the expanded services, the grant provides funding for five key full-time staff. At Cuyamaca, new staff will include a coordinator/counselor and a program assistant. At Grossmont, new staff will include two counselors with social work backgrounds and a program assistant.

“This program is the expansion of a system to assist foster youths that’s more than a decade in the making,” said district Chancellor Cindy L. Miles. “This allows our colleges to provide the improved academic support to address the needs of this very vulnerable population and to help ensure their academic success.”

Pam Fleming, foster youth liaison and financial aid advisor at Cuyamaca College called the program “groundbreaking,” and is hopeful it serves as a pilot for funding beyond three years to all districts in the state. With only half of all foster youth graduating from high school and between 3-10 percent obtaining college degrees, she said the outreach component of the grant program is critical.

“Because of a lack of funding, we haven’t been able to do much beyond sending emails to local high schools a couple times a years to let them know that programs like UP! exist,” she said. “Now, we’ll actually be able to go to the high schools and connect with students. This state program gives us the funding to actually meet the needs of foster youth who, because of instability in their lives, require a higher level of services than most students.” 

Brian Woolsey, EOPS counselor and Guardian Scholars co-coordinator at Grossmont College, said the grant will make college more accessible to students who have been in foster care, and will help smooth out the transition from high school to college and from college to university or the workforce.
“To do this, we plan to build tighter partnerships with the high schools and universities, as well as with county social workers, caseworkers and community-based organizations,” he said. “On campus, we’ll work closer with instructional faculty to help ensure success for students transitioning out of care and into becoming completely independent adults.”

The two colleges will be part of a consortium led by the college district and also involving community non-profits, public agencies, K-12 school districts and four-year institutions. Consortium representatives will join the district in overseeing the grant program to ensure the best use of funds.

According to a new study by the research institute RTI International partnering with the John Burton Foundation, and the Stuart Foundation, young adults who have been in foster care face substantial obstacles to succeed in college.

The study showed that foster youth enrolled in community colleges disproportionately face serious academic, economic, and emotional challenges and are critically in need of student support programs and resources to overcome barriers.

Fewer than 25 percent of foster youth taking remedial courses at community colleges earn a certificate or degree within an eight-year period, the study noted.


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