Andwele Umar Zakee always knew that he was destined for college. “It was always part of the plan. I was always going to go to college,” he recalls. A Los Angeles native, Andwele spent the past few years living with cousins before entering foster care during his junior year of high school after losing access to stable housing. None of that was going to stop him from pursuing a degree.
With a keen eye for fashion, U.C. Berkeley’s business program was the perfect fit for Andwele, who hopes to begin a career in fashion marketing. He applied and was admitted, receiving his financial aid award shortly thereafter. He quickly learned that the financial aid offered by the university failed to fully address how expensive college is for foster youth like him.
Thanks to a two-year, $250,000 dollar grant provided by The Kresge Foundation, John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) is exploring and addressing the challenges that homeless and foster care youth in California encounter as they attempt to afford higher education with few financial resources.
As his freshman year got into full swing, Andwele became familiar with these challenges. Even though Andwele received a robust financial aid award that helped to cover the nearly $50,000 per year it costs to attend U.C. Berkeley, once on campus and attending classes, he quickly learned that his award didn’t factor in the many necessary expenses his other classmates might have covered by their families.
“There are things that I needed such as technology that is required for classes. I have one class that requires a laptop or iPad. Other things that didn’t come up [included] laundry costs and books that were more expensive than I thought they were going to be,” he said. To cover some of these expenses, Andwele tapped $3,500 he earned while working through high school and another $2,500 he received through external scholarships. When asked about his costs, he says “I thought everything was going to be covered but it wasn’t.” Luckily, the Berkeley Scholars Program covered the cost of his iPad, but the other day-to-day expenses fell on Andwele.
Foster youth like Andwele shoulder the burden of the increasing and often invisible costs of attending college. Facing a lack of financial resources, foster youth must rely on working multiple jobs or taking on student loan debt to cover the difference between the financial aid they receive and the financial needs they have.
According to Debbie Raucher, Education Director at JBAY, there is much work to be done. “As costs rise for everything from technology to books, foster youth are facing an uphill battle as their expenses continue to pile up while their financial aid doesn’t accurately reflect their needs, putting higher education further and further out of reach. With this new funding from The Kresge Foundation, JBAY aims to correct that.”