As winter break unwinds and college students are at home for the holidays, many homeless and foster care students find themselves scrambling for somewhere to live until classes resume in January. College campuses traditionally close down for winter break. For these vulnerable students their college campus is their home, their community and a primary source of security. While their peers are headed home to see family and catch up with old friends, many of these young people are faced with bleak prospects for the holiday season.
These vulnerable youth face the same struggles as other young people trying to maintain good grades, navigating social peer groups, and planning their futures, but they face the additional burdens associated with little to no adult guidance or support. Fortunately, higher education professionals across our nation have begun to tackle the unique issues faced by homeless and foster care students. They are developing comprehensive strategies to address the most persistent barriers these students face; not just during the holiday season, but all year long.
“Higher education can be the silver bullet to achieving long-term health, housing, and economic security. And for young people who have already overcome so much adversity just to earn a seat in a college classroom, they should have every opportunity—inside and outside of the classroom—to succeed” says Jasmine Hayes, Policy Director for the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Ensuring these youth have a safe, stable place to call home in-between semesters is critical. Keeping student housing open and available for youth experiencing homelessness during semester breaks is an effective approach.”
Programs in states like Colorado and North Carolina have implemented Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) in their postsecondary institutions which provide these students access to designated college administrators who are committed to helping them to successfully navigate the college-going process. States and higher education institutions across the country are also working to address the issues these students face, including
- access to higher education opportunities and financial support;
- navigation of the college-going process, including financial aid and service referral processes; and
- basic needs like employment, housing and food.
These efforts are ensuring these most vulnerable students reach their highest potential.
Colleges can play a pivotal role in supporting the academic success of these students. Just ask for foster youth, Alain Datcher. “Entering college as a first time student was a daunting experience. It was a mixture of culture shock, academic rigor and rapid growth. I don’t believe I would have succeeded without the support network I had in one woman – Tamara Malone. She was a mentor, academic advisor, dean and more in one caring, compassionate woman.” When asked how he thought his experience could translate for other students who are homeless or in foster care he replied, “Proximity will define opportunity for these young people. Having a close, approachable, and tangible support network will make the difference. It did in my college education at Biola University. I’ll be earning a Master’s of Public Policy degree in April. Having one caring, single point of contact in Tamra is a big reason why I will.”
When educators act, they change lives. If you know of a foster youth student in your institution, be proactive and reach out. It can make all the difference. Find out more at http://findyouthinfo.gov/.
Guest bloggers: Annie Blackledge, Casey Family Programs Senior Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education, and Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for OCTAE.