Higher Education for Foster Youth

Foster youth face a special set of challenges outside the classroom that have a serious impact on their academic performance.

Higher education is not only a dream for most young people — it has become an increasingly necessary stepping stone to well-paying, stable employment. Unfortunately for foster youth, the financial resources, mentorship, support, stability, and guidance needed to complete postsecondary education or training programs are not common. As a result, studies have found that just 3-4% of former foster youth obtain a four-year college degree. And between 2 and 6% receive a two-year degree.

NFYI books for education
NFYI classroom for youth

Stability and predictability are important characteristics of any childhood. But it’s something that many children in foster care don’t have, making them far more likely to change schools during the school year, to be in special education classes, and less likely to receive passing grades than their general population counterparts. Only 50% of children in foster care will finish high school.

For those who are able to enroll in higher education, living expenses, reliable housing, access to technology and high speed internet, and help navigating the complexities of the academic world are all barriers to completing a degree. This may result in former foster youth attending college later in life or taking longer than four years to complete a degree. Homelessness and the foster care to prison pipeline also disrupt or end dreams of completing college. The challenges current and former foster youth face academically are very likely to translate into increased difficulty in finding and holding gainful employment when they enter the workforce.

NFYI higher education for foster youth


NFYI is taking steps to break down the barriers to academic achievement and increase supportive services. We’re currently working with Congressmembers who are advancing legislation that bolsters on-campus support for foster youth. We’re also teaming up with a network of academic partners to conduct targeted outreach to foster youth who may be interested in academics after high school. And we partnered with organizations across the country in 2020 to call for increasing federal Chafee funding by $500 million during the pandemic. A portion of this funding goes to grants that pay for tuition, housing, transportation, and child care costs for former foster youth who are in college or career training programs.

Foster Youth Facts & Figures:

High school dropout rates are 3x higher for foster youth than other low-income children.

Over 40%of school-aged children in foster care have educational difficulties.

Less than 10% obtain a degree

Nationwide, only about half of youth raised in foster care end up finishing high school. Less than 5% graduate from a four-year college. And 2-6% complete a degree from a two-year college.

Former foster youth who are currently in college have been particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. Get details about why, here.

Sources: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth Outcomes at Age 26 (2011)

Resources for Current and Former Foster Youth: