BLOOMSBURG—Bloomsburg University was one of six schools from across the state chosen to receive training and technical assistance in the development of campus-based support programs for foster youth from the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research connects experts from Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice, Law School, Perelman School of Medicine, and School of Nursing, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to bring critical change to the child-welfare system by shaping policy through research and system reform.
With help from the Field Center and its Stoneleigh Emerging Leader Fellow Seth Morones, the institutions will provide additional financial, academic, and other supports to help former foster youth succeed in college.
Bloomsburg University recently completed year two of its Anchor Program which provides youth, ages 15 to 18, involved in the Pennsylvania foster care system the opportunity to explore their academic interests and talents through a multi-year summer residential college life experience program. It also provides year-round mentorship opportunities to ensure the participants in the program are confident and prepared to make life choices like furthering their education and living independently. In 2018, BU hosted 28 students from 10 Pennsylvania counties for the Anchor Program.
“While the Anchor Program engages current high school students with experience in foster care, there will always be Bloomsburg University students who did not have the opportunity to participate,” says Rona Anderson, assistant to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and coordinator of the Anchor Program. “Nevertheless, BU has a myriad of services and personnel to facilitate a more successful transition to college. By creating a cooperative network of faculty, staff, and students to welcome and advocate for these students, youth who age out of foster care and choose to attend BU will have an additional opportunity to engage in mentoring initiatives. Also, the students will benefit from encouragement and guidance, and receive support when trying to navigate unfamiliar processes such as applying for room and board, utilizing financial aid, and adapting to life as a college student. This network will be promoted by a single point of contact so BU students formerly in foster care can easily identify a starting point for obtaining assistance.
“Only 14 percent of foster youth who attend college eventually earn a degree. Most don’t make it beyond their freshman year,” Debra Schilling Wolfe, the executive director of the Field Center, said. “They lack what other college students take for granted: someone to help them adjust to college life, work through challenges, or provide encouragement when they are feeling overwhelmed. It’s difficult for them to navigate complex systems in order to address concerns about housing or financial aid. They’re on their own. That’s why having the support of the university is essential, and it starts with a single-point-of-contact within the institution to help guide foster youth.”
Stemming from a multi-year collaboration among 50 partners, including child-welfare agencies, independent-living and school-readiness programs, colleges, financial-aid agencies, and governmental and non-profit organizations across Pennsylvania, the Field Center has developed best practices for recruiting, retaining, and providing support for students transitioning from foster care to college.
Along with Bloomsburg University, the other schools chosen to participate were Kutztown University, East Stroudsburg University, Penn State University-Greater Allegheny, Community College of Allegheny-South Campus, and Westmoreland County Community College. The newest group of Pennsylvania colleges and universities joins Chestnut Hill College, Manor College, Montgomery County Community College, and Penn State-Abington, whose programs are now forming. The first group was comprised of Cabrini University, Community College of Philadelphia, Temple University, and West Chester University, all of which have programs currently up and running. Four more schools will be selected in the spring, bringing the total number of institutions in the initiative to 18.