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When Foster Youth Go to College: Assessing Barriers and Supports to Degree Completion for College Students with Foster Care Histories

Nathanael Okpych and Mark Courtney review barriers to completing a college degree for young adults with foster care histories seeking post-secondary education. Their longitudinal approach evaluates students with foster care histories attending 2- and 4-year colleges and compares outcomes with low-income first-generation college students over a 10-year period. Results suggest that financial assistance, balancing school with employment needs, and the challenges of parenting as a student all have significant effects on those young people. On-campus assistance programs, when they exist, can also be very helpful for these students.


  • Understanding barriers to success can help college campuses address persistent obstacles that thwart degree completion.
  • Students with foster care backgrounds were less likely than low-income, first-generation students to persist through their first year and complete a degree in six years.
  • Three significant barriers to degree completion were identified: economic hardship, needing to work a lot of hours while taking courses, and being a parent.


Child Development & Well-Being, Children, Education & Training, Postsecondary Education, Transition to Adulthood


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