New law provides tuition-free college for foster children | Local News
WEST CHESTER—Starting this fall, young adults in Pennsylvania’s foster care system will be able to attend college tuition-free, thanks to a new law championed by state Senator Andy Dinniman and others.
The Fostering Independence Through Education Act, signed into law as part of Act 16 of 2019 (the Omnibus School Code), provides waivers on tuition and fees at all Pennsylvania colleges or universities for those who were in foster care at age 16 or older, including those who have been adopted or have “aged out” of the foster care system.
All Pennsylvania public and private colleges and universities, including community colleges and state-related institutions, will begin accepting the waivers for the fall semester. The new law brings Pennsylvania in line with 28 other states that allow foster kids to attend college tuition-free.
“Foster children face incredible challenges on their path to higher education and independence in successful careers and vocations,” Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, said. “This is one more obstacle we can help remove from the way as they strive to reach their highest potential.”
Eligible students must have a high school diploma or GED and maintain satisfactory academic progress in their classes to be granted the waivers. The waivers can be used for up to five years or until the age of 26. In addition, students must exhaust all available financial aid, such as grants and scholarships, before the waivers kick in.
The law also goes a step further to help ensure foster kids succeed once they get to campus. Students eligible for the program will have a special point of contact to assist in navigating the financial aid process and accessing support services as they adjust to college life. This aid is vital for young adults in or coming out of the foster care system who are on their own, without the support or resources many other students receive from their parents and families.
Dinniman said the program would help ease the transition to adulthood for some foster kids, while also reducing added stressors, like student debt.
“These students are by no means getting a free ride. They’ll still be responsible for housing, food, transportation, textbooks, and other associated costs,” he said. “Our aim is to help ease the transition. Remember, many of these young people haven’t had a typical teenage experience. They may have had very turbulent lives. And they don’t have the safety net and familial support structure that many college students rely on.”
Pennsylvania has more than 25,000 children in foster care, according to the most recent report by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. About 900 would be eligible for the waivers, according to estimates.
Although 70 percent of foster youth want to go to college, they attend at less than half the rate of their peers, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. And only about 14 percent of those who make it to college eventually earn a degree, the foundation found.