Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kudos to these California colleges

Riverside County, Cal State San Marcos, sign agreement to help foster kids at college
Glick, Julia. Press-Enterprise, Aug. 12, 2008.

Public colleges in the region are creating new programs to recruit and nurture former foster children, often left with little or no financial or family support once they reach 18 years old.

Cal State San Marcos signed an agreement Tuesday with Riverside County, guaranteeing admission to all qualified young people raised in the county's foster-care system.

"It truly is going to affect many, many people and change lives that may have had a rough beginning," County Supervisor Jeff Stone said before the memorandum of understanding was signed at the university's off-campus center in Temecula.

This is the first such agreement Riverside County has made with a college, but the county will pursue similar opportunities for foster children, said Susan Loew, Department of Public Social Services director.

Riverside County has more than 4,000 children in its foster-care system. About 550 of them are emancipated each year, usually at age 18.

Once foster children age out of the system, only about 10 percent attend higher education, and about 2 percent go on to graduate, Loew said.

Several colleges in the region, including Cal State San Marcos, have started programs that offer scholarships, mentoring, career counseling and other support to help former foster children once they have enrolled.

Cal State San Bernardino began its program in 2003. UC Riverside is currently raising money to establish similar services for its students.

Cal State's one-year-old program, known as ACE Scholar Services, will dovetail nicely with the new agreement, helping to support the Riverside County students after they are admitted, said university president Karen Haynes.

This year, the school received about 12,000 applications for about 1,500 spots, she said. The rapidly growing university has to turn away or wait-list some applicants even if they meet admission requirements, Haynes said.

But the school promises that former Riverside County foster children who meet Cal State requirements -- such as a high school diploma or GED, and qualifying test scores and grades -- will have a place at the university, she said.

"We are taking one barrier away. They do their part, meet requirements and we'll do ours," said the university's ACE Scholar director Jim Mickelson.

Karri Pierce, 19, a former foster child who lives in Riverside, was present when county and university officials signed the agreement Tuesday.

Pierce, who is a junior at Cal State San Bernardino, said the agreement was encouraging.

She lived with nine families and attended 17 schools during her 11 years in foster care, she said. She said she had to struggle to keep up academically through so many transitions. Also, some adults discouraged her from even considering higher education, she said.

She said she hopes the agreement and other efforts will make it easier for her younger siblings, still in the foster-care system, to follow in her footsteps.

"I am looking forward to a day when every single university offers foster children this kind of opportunity," she said.

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