New York City will cover the college tuition and housing costs for students in foster care, Mayor Eric Adams announced Tuesday.
The new program, called College Choice, will provide up to $15,000 a year, after financial aid, to cover remaining tuition costs for city teens in foster care at any college they choose, whether in New York City or beyond. The initiative will also cover housing costs and provide a $60 daily stipend to help students pay for food and books.
“A young person in foster care can attend the college of their choice without having to worry about the financial nightmare,” said Jess Dannhauser, the commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, which oversees the city’s child welfare system.
City children removed from their homes by child welfare authorities and placed in the foster system have among the poorest educational outcomes of any student group.
Only 25% of high school students in the class of 2019 who spent time in foster care graduated within four years, compared to 77% of all city students, according to a recent study from the city’s Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence.
The transition out of foster care and into higher education and careers can be particularly challenging, according to advocates.
According to national research compiled by the American Bar Association, only 18% to 38% of individuals in foster care around the country enroll in postsecondary education, even though upwards of 70% of those students expressed interest in higher education.
On the mayoral campaign trail, Adams promised to make students in foster care a priority of his administration. Along with the City Council, he expanded funding for the Fair Futures program, which provides students aging out of foster care with one-on-one coaches.
Adams also pledged to continue an idea proposed by former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to launch the first ever office solely dedicated to students in foster care at the city Education Department. Hiring for that office, however, has proceeded slower than expected.
“My north star was to see a program like this,” Adams said at a press conference Tuesday.
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The program builds on a previous initiative from the city’s Administration for Children’s Services that subsidized tuition and provided some additional financial support to students primarily at CUNY colleges, Dannhauser said.
“Today’s announcement takes that program one big step further,” Dannhauser said.
Qualifying students can get up to $15,000 a year in tuition and fees, on top of their normal financial aid. The money is valid at both public and private, and two- and four-year colleges. For the 230 students already enrolled in the program this year, that’s enough to cover the entire cost of tuition, Dannhauser said.
Students will also get money to pay for housing, a daily stipend for other expenses, and tutoring and counseling from New York Foundling, a nonprofit.
About half of the students currently participating are attending CUNY colleges, Dannhauser said.
Chantal Hinds, a policy entrepreneur and advocate for students in foster care at Next100, said “anything that can help students close gaps financially when it comes to college is helpful.” But she cautioned that there’s still a lot of work to do supporting students in foster care through the K-12 education system to ensure students make it to high school graduation in the first place.
Sanjida Afruz, a student at City College who’s participating in the new initiative, said the funding has allowed her to “just focus on my goals and my studies … without having to worry about my financial situation.”
“I’m here today standing before you as proof that it is possible,” she said.