April 8, 2024

Foster Youth Field of Dreams: JBAY Advocates for College Savings

Foster Youth Field of Dreams: JBAY Advocates for College Savings

“If you build it, they will come.” 

This a quote from the 1989 classic film “Field of Dreams,” as well as a powerful statement about intention. 

It turns out this idea doesn’t just apply to baseball in cornfields; it also applies to college attendance. Studies have consistently shown that establishing a college saving account is one of the best, proven ways of increasing the likelihood that a student will go to college. Even with savings of less than $500, a child is 25% more likely to enroll in college and 64% more likely to graduate than a child with no savings. 

Based on evidence like this, California established CalKIDS, which provides $500 to low-income public school students enrolled in the 1st grade during the 2022-2023 academic year and every year thereafter. Children who were in foster care or homeless receive an additional $500. 

The program is significant but it inadvertently excludes foster youth like JBAY Youth Advocate Wednesday Pope, who spent eight years in and out of foster care between birth and age 21. Unfortunately, she didn’t happen to be in foster care in the first grade.

John Burton Advocates for Youth  (JBAY)  is working with Assemblymember Kevin McCarty to make the program work for California’s children and youth in foster care through the introduction of Assembly Bill 2508

This kind of college saving plan would have meant a lot to Wednesday, “I am a first-generation college student. Growing up, I experienced not only foster care but also extreme poverty. No one ever spoke to me about college and the benefits. I thought it was something out of reach. I had heard that it was expensive and would lead me into long-term debt.”

 Assembly Bill 2508 would modify the eligibility criteria for CalKIDS beyond first grade, to all foster youth, in first through twelfth grade. A change like this would have made life much easier for Wednesday, “Every dollar that I spent towards school, was a dollar that I didn’t have for food or housing. Having a CalKIDs account could have given me the resources I needed to stay in school my first semester.”  

Housing instability and food insecurity are the kinds of hardships that result in low rates of college retention among foster youth. By age 23, 10% of foster youth have earned an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree as compared to 36% of the same-age non-foster youth population. 

Fortunately, Wednesday persevered. She is currently a student at Folsom Lake College, majoring in Business Administration. She will transfer to a 4-year university this fall. But she knows that many more foster youth need help.

“There are many kids in foster care, just like me, who don’t think that college is possible and believe it is something that they can’t afford. Expanding these CalKIDS accounts to all youth in foster care in 1st through 12th grade sends the message to youth that they are college material and creates hope that resources are in place to help them succeed.”