As a teenager in foster care, Rose Johnasen dreamed of going to college and using her love of nature to make the world a better place.
“I began working and living on my own when I was 15. Even though I was still a kid, I had to worry about my finances and living situation. College was my only option to do better for myself and find a way out of the cycle.”
Rose worked hard throughout high school and in her senior year applied for financial aid. Despite being in foster care and having no extended family to help her, there was a significant gap between the amount of assistance she would receive and the cost of attending college. In the financial aid world, this gap is called “unmet need.”
Rose is not alone. John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) has calculated that the average amount of “unmet need” per foster youth in California is approximately $4,500 annually.
Faced with this significant sum, many foster youth chose not to pursue higher education or go deeply into debt. By age 23, just 10 percent of foster youth obtain a two- or four-year degree as compared to 36 percent of their non-foster youth peers.
“Throughout college, I had to live in seven different homes, and always worked at least two jobs at once. Not being able to support your own basic needs can be scary, confusing, embarrassing, and lonely. I had no one to pick me up when things got too heavy.”
Fortunately, in 2023 JBAY has plans to address the issue of “unmet need” for Rose and thousands of foster youth in California. Under the proposal, California would establish the California Fostering Futures program. This program would be funded to cover 100% of unmet needs after federal, state and institutional aid are applied. It would be available to students attending community college as well as campuses of the California State and University of California systems.
The public commitment to pay for a foster youth’s unmet need sends a powerful message, according to Associate Director of Education Jessica Petrass. “Investing in a college degree for foster youth is investing in their future. It sends a clear message that California believes in their potential and creates a path forward for them to make their educational and career goals a reality.”
Fortunately, Rose was able to continue her education. After completing her associate’s degree at Butte Community College, she transferred to Cal Poly Humboldt, where she is working towards her bachelor’s degree in environmental science with a concentration in ecological restoration. After graduation, she will pursue a career as an environmental scientist/restoration ecologist.
“Because of unmet need, foster youth like me have experienced unstable housing, physical and mental health concerns, and overall lack of engagement in school,” Rose says. “Students should be able to focus on simply learning. Giving foster youth the opportunity to attend college without these barriers will undoubtedly change their lives for the better.”