February 8, 2024

JBAY in Action: 970 Foster Youth Benefit from Higher Education Policy Reform

JBAY in Action: 970 Foster Youth Benefit from Higher Education Policy Reform

In a significant stride towards educational equity, the 2023-24 state budget brings promising news for foster youth pursuing higher education in California. Spearheaded by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), and jointly authored by California State Senators Mike McGuire and Angelique Ashby, a modification to the Middle-Class Scholarship program has been enacted, ensuring full college funding for foster youth enrolled in California State University or University of California campuses.

The policy took effect with the Fall 2023 term and JBAY wasted no time in gauging its impact. In November 2023, JBAY requested data from the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC), aiming to assess the policy’s efficacy in its inaugural academic term. According to CSAC, a total of 970 foster youth benefited from the new policy, collectively receiving $5,015,676 in additional financial aid. That is an average of $5,017 per foster youth!

“The significance of this initiative cannot be overstated,” shares JBAY Executive Director Amy Lemley. “Many foster youth enrolled in college are financially hanging on by a thread. This sizable increase in financial aid can make it possible for them to pay bills and stay enrolled to keep working towards their degree.” 

The impact of this initiative extends far beyond financial assistance. It symbolizes a paradigm shift in California’s approach to assisting older youth in foster care. JBAY Youth Advocate Traneisia Jones attends Sacramento State and believes this change is long overdue. 

“Being a first generation student who experienced foster care for more than half of my life, increasing financial aid is an important need for us former and current foster youth. I do well in school in order to receive the most financial aid funds possible because I depend on it, especially since finding a job and balancing school at the same time can be difficult.”

Looking ahead, JBAY remains committed to making college within reach for every foster youth who has a desire for higher education. For JBAY Education Director Debbie Raucher, that means addressing at least two outstanding policy issues. 

The first is a “self-help” requirement of $7,898 per student that is a condition of the Middle Class Scholarship and that can put college out of reach for foster youth. The second is a 12 unit enrollment requirement for students in community college to receive expanded financial aid. According to Raucher, this unit requirement doesn’t reflect the reality of foster youth who often have to work full-time to afford housing, food and more and who are more likely than other students to be student parents.  

 “Our work doesn’t end here. We will continue to champion initiatives that dismantle barriers to education, ensuring that every foster youth has the resources and support needed to thrive academically.”