National Foster Youth Institute Reminds Communities to Support Former Foster Youth in Filling Out Student Debt Relief Application

With just 3-10% of former foster youth obtaining a college degree with little to no support system, student debt is one of very few options available in pursuit of higher education, family-supporting jobs.

WASHINGTON, DC — With the U.S. Department of Education releasing the application for one-time student debt relief for low- and middle-income families, the National Foster Youth Institute is reaching out to communities and advocates around the country to ensure that all current and former foster youth who are eligible for debt relief have an opportunity to apply, along with the support and resources they need to successfully complete the application process. We invite you to join us in reminding former students in your community to visit for the five-minute application.

Due to lack of resources and support systems, just 3-4% of former foster youth obtain a four-year college degree, and between 2 and 6% receive a two-year degree. For those who are able to complete a degree, the road to graduation for foster youth is paved with significant obstacles that other young people may not face, resulting in carrying high student debt, taking longer to reach their education goals, and difficulty finding and maintaining employment.

Ivory Bennett, a Teach for America community impact coach, child welfare advocate, and former foster youth from Pennsylvania, took out $80,000 in loans for both undergraduate and grad school. 

“I pursued multiple degrees because spending 17 years in the child welfare system led me to develop a strong commitment to education equity and foster care advocacy,” Ivory said. “But I didn’t imagine when I was taking out loans at 18 what it would be like to spend decades paying them off. My career has demonstrated my commitment to public service. And I’m glad that some debt relief will allow me to continue to serve.”

While the National Foster Youth Institute is hopeful that the Student Debt Relief Program will benefit former foster youth who were able to attend some portion of college, the organization also encourages decisionmakers and policymakers to look to the future and implement policies that will help increase the shockingly low graduation rates that former foster youth face.

“All too often, current and former foster youth who are working to achieve their dreams of attaining higher education do not have the financial or moral support to successfully start or finish a degree without significant struggle on their parts. Missteps we’ve seen include obtaining loans without understanding the repayment process, confusion and misinformation while signing paperwork, and falling victim to predatory for-profit schemes,” said Rebecca Louve Yao, executive director of the National Foster Youth Institute. “The federal loan forgiveness program is an important way to support former foster youth who have already taken out student loans. And we hope that we can come together to find creative solutions for helping future students avoid common pitfalls.”

NFYI’s recommendations for solutions to support current and former foster youth in obtaining degrees and certifications beyond high school include:

Increasing Financial Resources
Ensuring that young adults who have been in the child welfare system are aware of and have access to educational funds through the John H. Chafee Foster Care for Successful Transition to Adulthood program. The federal Chafee Program provides financial support to states to assist current and former foster youth with their transition to adulthood. This includes education and financial management assistance. 

Meeting Basic Necessities
It can be impossible to do well in school when a student is worried about eating, having a safe place to sleep, and doesn’t have internet access or the technology needed to get their work done. Early on in the pandemic, NFYI worked with Congress and community partners around the country to secure emergency funding to meet basic needs and to extend foster care for those who aged out during the crisis through The Supporting Foster Youth & Families Through the Pandemic Act. While the emergency funding has expired, we urge local communities and educational institutions to continue to prioritize helping young adults with no support systems get these basic needs met. And we support current efforts in Congress to raise the national age for transitioning out of foster care (see H.R.8177).

Mentoring Programs
NFYI members — young adults between 18 and 30 who spent time in foster care — consistently name mentoring from adults who have had similar life experiences as key to their success. On-campus programs like Guardian Scholars, which pair financial aid and emotional support systems, can be vital in helping young people finish the degrees they start. We encourage educational institutions to both support programs like these and seek out students from the child welfare system who may be open to supplemental support and mentorship.