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September 2021Vol. 22, No. 8Foster Care Alumni Are More Likely to Stop Out of College Than Their Low-Income Peers

A recent study investigated whether young adults who have experienced foster care were more likely to stop out of a 4-year university than their low-income, first-generation student peers. Foster care alumni were also less likely to graduate and took longer to graduate than the comparison group. The term "stopping out" refers to when students end their enrollment at an institution and reenroll after an extended absence. These temporary stop outs are often related to financial reasons, whereas the motivation behind dropping out, or permanently withdrawing from an institution, is often related to academic performance, according to the study.

In the study, researchers collected data from a sample of 803 students enrolled at a large, public, 4-year university in the Midwest over a 10-year period. Of the students studied, 438 were former wards of the court, and 365 were low-income, first-generation college students who did not identify as court wards. Of the foster care alumni, 43 percent experienced at least one stop-out episode compared with 27 percent of the comparison group. 

The study aimed to answer the following questions: 

  • What is the average time to graduation for students who are foster care alumni who stop out versus those who remain continuously enrolled?  
  • Are youth with foster care experience more likely to stop out during college than other low-income, first-generation students?  
  • Do foster care alumni who stop out graduate at a lower rate than other first-generation, low-income students who also experience a stop-out episode?  
  • Is there a difference in time to graduation for foster care alumni compared with other first-generation, low-income students (controlling for stop outs, grade-point average, transfer status, gender, and race)?  
Foster care alumni face unique barriers and are understudied compared with other populations of nontraditional students, such as those who enroll part time due to full-time employment and those caring for dependents, according to the study. The findings of the study concluded that students who were foster care alumni were less likely to have graduated than those in the low-income, first-generation comparison group. African-American students were less likely to have graduated than White students and students who identified with another race, and transfer students were less likely to have graduated than first-time students. These findings underscore the need to amend financial aid policies to better serve youth who have experienced foster care, provide more culturally relevant supports, and help students maintain enrollment whenever possible.