Depending on their residing state, foster youth age out of the system around ages eighteen to twenty-one. In this transition from adolescence to adulthood, they are in the most need of support and stability. The challenge-ridden track to college exemplifies a flaw in the foster care system. There are educational and environmental factors that hinder foster youth from fulfilling their potential. Foster children have to adapt to independent living—how can we expect any student to focus on higher education on top of that?
Around 50% of foster students graduate from high school, while their peers have a graduation rate of 85%. According to the NFYI, "less than 3% graduate from a four-year college". Many factors influence this statistic; among them are school transfers and instability. A study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation highlights the stories of former foster students. They discuss the struggles of Harold Slokes, who "...repeated the 9th grade three times, which he says happened because his records and credits never got transferred." The disorganization of the system is apparent here. Because of the constant movement from school to school, Slokes' education suffered. Stories like Slokes' are a common narrative among foster youth. All students need a stable school environment to succeed, yet foster students are deprived of that. Their constantly changing environment denies them access to academically-excelling course selections (Advanced Placement classes, for example) and extracurriculars, limiting their potential.
Then, foster youth are forced to mature as soon as they leave the system—the "independence first" mindset. Generally, children become self-sufficient around 25, relying less on their parents' (usually financial) help. By contrast, foster youth stop receiving support from the system at 18. Megan Hill also shared her thoughts with the AEC Foundation, "the mindset of a foster youth is that you need to work and have a roof over your head." Foster youth aren't taught to prioritize their education because survival comes first. Unlike their peers, foster children do not receive parental support from their guardians/ caseworkers (Here is an inspiring story about Josey's experience from the VoA). In summary, foster youth's circumstances don't lend to a college mindset.
Despite these challenges, many foster students make it through to the rigor of college. There are many resources available to foster youth, supporting their pre-college experience and beyond. The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) provide assistance and encouragement to college-dreaming foster youth. For a more systemic approach, many advocate for individual education plans (IEPS) to accommodate for the instability in foster care. College can appear far out of grasp to a foster child, but with community support and proper assistance, their potential blooms.