ArticlePDF Available
Preparing Youth in Foster Care for College Through an Early
Outreach Program
Royel M. Johnson, Terrell L. Strayhorn
Journal of College Student Development, Volume 60, Number 5, September-October
2019, pp. 612-616 (Article)
Published by Johns Hopkins University Press
For additional information about this article
Access provided at 9 Oct 2019 15:34 GMT from Penn State Univ Libraries
https://muse.jhu.edu/article/735233
612 Journal of College Student Development
Dawn Johnson, associate editorOn the Campus
Preparing Youth in Foster Care for College
Through an Early Outreach Program
Royel M. Johnson Terrell L. Strayhorn
Foster youth are among some of the nation’s
most underserved students in higher education.
Of the more than 430,000 youth in the foster
care system, only about 50% will graduate
from high school and as little as 3% will
ever earn a bachelor’s degree (Pecora, 2012;
Wolanin, 2005). ese trends are even more
troubling when you consider that over 70%
of all foster youth aspire to attend college
(Kirk & Day, 2011; Tzawa-Hayden, 2004).
A burgeoning line of research on foster
youth oers insights about the complex web
of personal and educational challenges that
signicantly limit their college-going rates.
For instance, researchers have documented
the challenges foster youth experience, such
as: difficulties satisfying their basic needs
like food, shelter, and money; frequent and
abrupt changes in school placement; low
educational expectations; lack of access to
adequate healthcare; and unstable social
supports and financial resources (Davis,
2006; Pecora, 2012; Wolanin, 2005). Taken
together, these challenges, among others, create
sizeable opportunity gaps that accumulate over
time and signicantly reduce the likelihood
that foster youth will graduate high school
prepared for college. With so few options and
so many challenges, interventions are needed
that address such gaps, providing foster youth
with the resources and supports necessary for
successfully navigating college-going decisions
and the path from foster care to college.
One common strategy for improving
academic preparation and college readiness
for underserved groups is precollege outreach
programs (Swail & Perna, 2002). Federal
TRIO programs like Upward Bound, for
example, are perhaps the most widely known.
Other programs include GEAR UP, AVID,
and dozens of other locally based programs
like Blueprint:College, sponsored by I Know
I Can (http://iknowican.org/programs-
events/blueprintcollege). Generally speaking,
precollege programs vary in duration (e.g., 1
week to year-round), dier in curricular focus
(e.g., academic, career, or social-oriented),
and may be residential or oer students a
stipend for participation (Corwin, Colyar,
& Tierney, 2005; Swail & Perna, 2002;
Strayhorn, Kitchen, Johnson, & Tillman-
Kelly, 2015). While critically important for
smoothing students’ transition from high
school to campus (Strayhorn, 2011), precollege
programs alone are insucient for addressing
the multifaceted problems facing college-
bound foster youth whose precarious positions
may require creative collaborations between
Royel M. Johnson is Assistant Professor of Education Policy Studies at The Pennsylvania State University.
Terrell L. Strayhorn is Vice President for Academic and Student Aairs and Professor of Urban Education at
LeMoyne–Owen College.
S–O    /   613
On the Campus
state agencies (e.g., youth services), schools,
and campuses (Sarubbi, Parker, & Sisneros,
2017). For instance, Emerson and Bassett
(2010) urged university administrators to
take new steps in developing more integrative
outreach and campus support programs
that address the needs of foster youth speci-
cally. ey recommended development of
community and university collaborations
with social service agencies; exposure to
personal, academic, social, and psychological
resources; and information about federal, state,
and local supports. An eective precollege
program for foster youth might consist of all
these key elements.
To help increase the college preparation
of local foster youth in a Midwestern city, we
developed a working group comprised of foster
youth nominated by agency sta, sta from a
university research center that sponsored and
coordinated the program, local community
leaders who work with foster youth, and city
government representatives. One outcome
of this working group was the development
and implementation of the Reach Higher
Outreach Program (hereafter Reach Higher),
drawing on insights from existing scholarship
and research (e.g., Emerson & Bassett, 2010;
Strayhorn, 2011, 2012).
PREPARING FOSTER YOUTH
TO REACH HIGHER
e working group originated from a campus-
based, university-level research center engaged
in social science research related to college
student success, particularly for underserved
or otherwise vulnerable groups. At the time,
we were conducting research examining the
educational experiences of foster youth and
their pathways into and through college. As part
of our commitment to community outreach
and engagement, we aimed to translate our
research discoveries to practice; specically,
we worked with others to leverage insights
from our foster youth research to develop
and implement a new initiative that would
expose students to knowledge and resources
that are critical for successfully navigating
the college-going process. To get started, we
invited individuals from across campus and
the local community to participate in an initial
brainstorming meeting. Campus invitees
included sta from admissions, nancial aid,
and fundraising/development oces, while
community invitees included sta from the
local child and family welfare agency, foster
youth advocates, and a number of leaders in
the local vicinity who championed foster youth
issues. is would eventually become the core
working group with the addition of a former
foster youth enrolled in college.
Prior to the development of Reach Higher,
members of the working group met biweekly
for over a semester to brainstorm strategies
for improving educational outcomes of foster
youth locally with hopes of making an impact
in the city and state. Meetings typically
included discussions of research findings
from extant literature and testimonials of
former foster youth in college to inform our
early stages of planning. Reach Higher is
one of several eorts that resulted from this
collaboration and was designed, in part, as
a response to Former First Lady, Michelle
Obamas Reach Higher initiative, which
encouraged colleges and universities to take
new steps in exposing students to higher
education who might not otherwise have
the opportunity (http://obamawhitehouse.
archives.gov/reach-higher).
e overarching purpose of the program
was (a)to expose current high school students
in the foster care system to knowledge and
resources critical for successful preparation,
access, and transition to college; and (b)to
raise awareness on campus and in the city
about the unique challenges and experiences
614 Journal of College Student Development
On the Campus
of foster youth. We specically targeted high
school juniors and seniors, given how critical it
is for students to make college-going decisions
during this time (Hossler & Gallagher, 1987).
To recruit participants, we worked with
key sta at a local child and family welfare
agency who shared our program yer with
eligible youth they served. We also shared
program information with social workers who
encouraged students in care to participate. All
prospective participants were required to sign
up in advance and to indicate travel needs. As
an incentive for participation, the local welfare
agency provided $25 gift cards and covered
student travel; participants received gift cards
on the day of the program. Forty-six students
participated in this day-long program, which
took place at a large, Midwestern research
university in Spring 2015.
e program started at 9:00 a.m. and
ended at approximately at 8:15 p.m. The
schedule included presentations by university
admissions, nancial aid, counseling services,
and a student learning and development center
that provides tutoring services. It is important
to note that we met with each presenter prior to
the program to discuss their presentation and
how they might tailor it to the specic needs
of foster youth. For instance, admissions sta
were asked to oer recommendations about
writing personal statements for their college
applications using asset-based approaches
to “tell their story.” Similarly, the Director
of the Counseling Center was asked to help
normalize usage of professional counseling
services, framing it as a critical resource for
all students once admitted. This may be
particularly important for foster youth who
experience trauma at disproportionate rates
than their peers who are not in foster care
(Pecora, 2012). e program also included
catered lunch and dinner, a campus tour,
a panel led by college students who were
former foster youth, a motivational keynote
speaker, and an informational session with
social workers and community advocates about
federal, state, and local programs designed
to support foster youth in their transition to
adulthood generally and in pursuing higher
education specifically. The total cost for
delivering this program was approximately
$2,000, which covered expenses for food,
materials (e.g., tote bags), and incentives (i.e.,
$25 gift cards). ese expenses were paid for
by the campus-based research center, family
agency, and in-kind contributions from other
units across campus. A full schedule is available
upon request from the authors.
ASSESSING THE PROGRAM
To assess program outcomes to some extent,
pretest and posttest surveys were administered
at the start and conclusion of the program. e
survey included 15 perceptual items asking
students to rate their level of agreement with
a series of statements on a 5-point Likert scale
ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly
agree). Sample items included: “I know which
courses I have to take in high school to
improve my chances for college admissions,
and “I am aware of resources on campus that
can help me with my transition to college.”
e nal item on the posttest survey asked
participants to rate their level of satisfaction
with the program. Data were cleaned and
screened for missing cases. In total, 19 cases
were deemed missing (attributed in part to
some attrition in the program throughout the
day), which resulted in 27 complete and paired
responses. Descriptive statistics were computed
for all variables and group mean dierences
were examined using paired sample t tests.
Participants reported statistically signicant
dierences across all items. e greatest gains
were observed in participants’ awareness of
resources to support their transition to college,
M = –1.26; t(26) = –5.79, p < .01, and
S–O    /   615
On the Campus
knowledge of where to go when experiencing
personal challenges such as depression and
lone liness, M = –1.26; t(26) = –5.07, p < .01.
Other noteworthy results included gains in
participants’ knowledge of the types of high
school courses to take to increase college
readiness, ∆M = –0.74, t(26) = –4.08, p < .01,
programs and resources available to help fund
their education, ∆M = –0.81, t(26) = –3.05,
p < .01, and skills necessary for college success,
M = –1.12, t(26) = –4.00, p < .01. Finally,
approximately 90% reported being generally
satised with the program.
CONCLUSION
e Reach Higher Outreach Program provided
a meaningful opportunity for foster youth in
a Midwestern city to be exposed to resources
and supports necessary for successfully navi-
gat ing college-going decisions and college
preparation. It helped demystify elements of
the college application process, while exposing
students to critical resources available to them
upon transition to college. This program
also challenged campus administrators who
were involved in the initiative to think more
critically about how they can tailor their work
to meet the needs of prospective and current
college students formerly in foster care, while
underscoring the importance of university and
community partnerships.
Since Spring 2015, the Reach Higher
Outreach Program has been hosted 4 addi-
tional times, leveraging insights from each
evaluation for program improvement. Subse-
quent programs, for instance, have included
shorter days, increased opportunities for
participants to exercise agency by choosing
activities throughout the day, and included
time to initiate their online college application
using Common App software; we have also
held incentives to the end of the program to
encourage participation in the posttest survey.
And while no denitive claims can be made
about the impact of the program given the
methodological design of our assessment, the
Reach Higher program serves as a promising
model that campus administrators, especially
those in student affairs, might consider
replicating and extending to other campuses,
working in tandem with other units across
campus as well as local state agencies and
advocacy groups. e transient nature of the
experiences of youth in foster care is one barrier
in tracking student outcomes longitudinally.
Indeed, youth experience a number of residen-
tial and school placement changes during their
time in foster care that can make it dicult
to conduct follow-up surveys. And few states
have linked data systems between child welfare
and education agencies—as was the case in
this state—to track student outcomes. We
recommend that those interested in replicating
this program in the future work more closely
with their local child welfare and education
agencies to identify a strategy for tracking
student’s college enrollment. We are available
to discuss instrumentation upon request.
Correspondence concerning this article should be
addressed to Royel M. Johnson, Assistant Professor, e
Pennsylvania State University, 405B Rackley Building,
University Park, PA 16802; rjohnson@psu.edu
616 Journal of College Student Development
On the Campus
REFERENCES
Corwin, Z. B., Colyar, J. E., & Tierney, W. G. (2005).
Introduction. Engaging research and practice: Extracurricular
and curricular inuences on college access. In W. G. Tierney,
Z. B. Corwin, & J. E. Colyar (Eds.), Preparing for college:
Nine elements of eective outreach (pp. 1-9). Albany: State
University of New York Press.
Davis, R. J. (2006). College access, nancial aid, and college success
for undergraduates from foster care. Washington, DC: National
Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
Emerson, J., & Bassett, L. (2010). Supporting success: Improving
higher education outcomes for students from foster care. Seattle,
WA: Casey Family Programs.
Hossler, D., & Gallagher, K. S. (1987). Studying student
college choice: A three-phase model and the implications for
policymakers. College
&
University, 62(3), 207-211.
Kirk, R., & Day, A. (2011). Increasing college access for youth
aging out of foster care: Evaluation of a summer camp
program for foster youth transitioning from high school to
college. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 1173-1180.
Pecora, P. J. (2012). Maximizing educational achievement of
youth in foster care and alumni: Factors associated with
success. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 1121-1129.
Sarubbi, M., Parker, E., & Sisneros, L. (2017, December).
Building policy momentum for foster youth support
in postsecondary education. Denver, CO: Education
Commission of the States. Retrieved from http://www.ecs
.org/wp-content/uploads/Building-Policy-Momentum-for-
Foster-Youth-Support-in-Postsecondary-Education.pdf
Swail, W. S., & Perna, L. W. (2002). Precollege outreach
programs. In W. G. Tierney & L. S. Hagedorn (Eds.),
Increasing access to college: Extending possibilities for all students
(pp. 15-34). Albany: State University of New York Press.
Strayhorn, T. L. (2011). Bridging the pipeline: Increasing under-
repre sented students’ preparation for college through a sum mer
bridge program. American Behavioral Scientist, 55, 142-159.
Strayhorn, T. L. (2012). College students’ sense of belonging:
A key to educational success for all students. New York, NY:
Routledge.
Strayhorn, T. L., Kitchen, J. A., Johnson, R. M., & Tillman-
Kelly, D. L. (2015). College Outreach
&
Academic Support
Program (COASP) study 2014: Annual progress report (CHEE
Report Series 2015-001). Columbus: Center for Higher
Education Enterprise, e Ohio State University.
Tzawa-Hayden, A. (2004). Take me higher: Helping foster
youth pursue higher education. Child Law Practice, 23(10),
163-166.
Wolanin, T. R. (2005). Higher education opportunities for foster
youth: A primer for policymakers. Washington, DC: Institute
for Higher Education Policy.
... This study is part of a larger investigation examining the impact of a pre-college outreach program on the educational aspirations and preparation of emancipating YFC (Johnson & Strayhorn, 2019). The larger study employed a concurrent, mixed-method design (Leech & Onwuegbuzie, 2009) that collected both quantitative (i.e., pre-and post-test surveys) and qualitative (i.e., focus groups) data. ...
... The program was designed to (a) expose current high school students in the foster care system to knowledge and resources critical for successful preparation, access, and transition to college; and (b) raise awareness on campus about the unique challenges and experiences of YFC. More information about the development and evaluation of the program is presented elsewhere (Johnson & Strayhorn, 2019). Program participants were purposefully selected (Patton, 1990) with help from a local child and family service agency. ...
... First, we recommend that individual qualitative researchers examine and expand the roles of racially/ethnically minoritized youth in qualitative research projects. For example, one recommendation is the adoption of youth or community advisory boards (see [25]), which is a common practice in public health research, although few education scholars have adopted this practice as well (see [26,27]). This approach is a promising strategy for developing trust, fostering understanding, and promoting meaningful engagement with youth and community stakeholders. ...
Article
Full-text available
The visible impacts of COVID-19 and racial injustice have resulted in renewed funding commitments and research within minoritized communities. However, this work is too often anchored in deficit and damage-centered research approaches and practices. In this brief, we call on the qualitative research community to reframe their perspectives and terminate harmful, pain-driven research. We underscore the importance of humanizing and liberatory approaches to research with youth who are racially/ethnically minoritized. Specifically, we contend that the emotional health and overall well-being of youth are impacted by the approaches employed by researchers and the experiences racially/ethnically minoritized youth have with research. Thus, we offer specific anti-oppressive strategies and recommendations for qualitative researchers to consider in their work with racial/ethnically minoritized youth and communities.
... During the summer of 2017, however, I was introduced to a new method-well new to me at least: systematic literature review. My introduction to the methods of systematic review was quite timely as I had begun expanding my research on students impacted by foster care (e.g., Johnson and Strayhorn, 2019). I was particularly struck by headlines that were popping up at that time in news and popular media outlets in the United States (U.S.) that painted a "doom and gloom" picture about the education trajectory and outcomes of youth formerly in foster care. ...
Book
Full-text available
In this open access edited volume, international researchers of the field describe and discuss the systematic review method in its application to research in education. Alongside fundamental methodical considerations, reflections and practice examples are included and provide an introduction and overview on systematic reviews in education research. Contents • Reflections on the Methodological Approach of Systematic Reviews • Ethical Considerations of Conducting Systematic Reviews in Educational Research • Teaching Systematic Review • Conceptualizations and Measures of Student Engagement • The Role of Social Goals in Academic Success Target Groups Researchers, instructors, and students in the field of education and related disciplines The Editors Prof. Dr. Olaf Zawacki-Richter, Professor of Educational Technology, Center for Open Education Research (COER), Faculty of Education and Social Science, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany. Prof. Dr. Michael Kerres, Professor of Educational Science | Learning Technology & Innovations, Learning Lab, University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany. Dr. Svenja Bedenlier, Research Associate, Center for Open Education Research (COER), Faculty of Education and Social Science, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany. Melissa Bond, Research Associate, Center for Open Education Research (COER), Faculty of Education and Social Science, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany. Katja Buntins, Research Associate, Learning Lab, University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany.
... During the summer of 2017, however, I was introduced to a new method-well new to me at least: systematic literature review. My introduction to the methods of systematic review was quite timely as I had begun expanding my research on students impacted by foster care (e.g., Johnson and Strayhorn, 2019). I was particularly struck by headlines that were popping up at that time in news and popular media outlets in the United States (U.S.) that painted a "doom and gloom" picture about the education trajectory and outcomes of youth formerly in foster care. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter explores the processes of reviewing literature as a research method. The logic of the family of research approaches called systematic review is analysed and the variation in techniques used in the different approaches explored using examples from existing reviews. The key distinctions between aggregative and configurative approaches are illustrated and the chapter signposts further reading on key issues in the systematic review process.
... My introduction to the methods of systematic review was quite timely as I had begun expanding my research on students impacted by foster care (e.g., Johnson and Strayhorn, 2019). I was particularly struck by headlines that were popping up at that time in news and popular media outlets in the United States (U.S.) that painted a "doom and gloom" picture about the education trajectory and outcomes of youth formerly in foster care. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
Systematic reviews provide more than just a summary of the research literature related to a particular topic or question--rather they offer clear and compelling answers to questions related to the ”who,” "why," and "when" of studies. In this chapter, the authors draw on their experiences with systematic reviews—one as an editor of a highly regarded educational research journal, the other as a researcher and review author—to trace the growing popularity of systematic reviews in education literature and to pose a series of challenges to aspiring review authors to motivate and enliven their work. In particular, the authors stress the importance of melding scientific and rigorous review procedures with 'stylish' academic writing that engages its audience through effective storytelling, attention to context (the people, places, policies, and practices represented in the studies under review), and clear implications for research and practice.
Article
Interview data from 11 African American male collegians formerly in foster care attending a PWI were analyzed using the constant comparison method. Three major themes were identified using this approach. Participants reported feeling isolated from most others on campus and keenly aware of differences between them and their peers, as well as worrying frequently about having basic needs met; basic needs ranged from health care coverage to housing, from sense of belonging to safety and transportation. They also identified three protective factors that sustained them in college: role models and mentors, engagement in race-conscious campus clubs and organizations, and an unwavering personal drive to persist despite adversity. Findings have significant implications for educational research, practice, and policy. Information from this study may also provide clues for future intervention efforts.
Article
Background Youth transitioning from foster care to college face multiple obstacles. Pre-college programs can promote college access for underrepresented students. The research on pre-college programs that prepare foster youth for college is limited. There is a paucity of research that illuminates youth voices in pre-college programs. Objective This article reviews key program components of a pre-college summer program designed specifically for youth transitioning from foster care, the National Social Work Enrichment Program (NSEP). Findings from a qualitative research study of NSEP are presented. Implications for policy, practice, and research for pre-college programs are discussed. Participants and setting Fourteen youth, who successfully completed NSEP and had enrolled in college following the program, participated in the study. Methods Participants completed semi-structured interviews via a video conferencing tool. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using NVivo 12. Results Thematic analysis captured youth voices, highlighted in the themes: college aspirations, college preparation, and community building. Results suggest NSEP youth aspired to enroll in college. Results also suggests that the NSEP experience helped to prepare youth for college and facilitated the development of community among participants. Conclusions Investment in pre-college programs could provide the right support and resources that youth need to transition from foster care to college. Pre-college programs provide an opportunity for youth to develop college readiness skills, build relationship skills, and grow personally. Further research on the efficacy of pre-college programs is needed.
Article
Full-text available
A model of the decision-making process for college choice that has three phases (predisposition, search, and choice) is proposed, and the implications of this model for college and government policy formation are examined. (MSE)
Article
Belonging-with peers, in the classroom, or on campus-is a crucial part of the college experience. it can affect a student's degree of academic achievement, or even whether they stay in school. Although much is known about the causes and impact of sense of belonging in students, little is known about how belonging differs based on students' social identities, such as race, gender, or sexual orientation, or the conditions they encounter on campus.
Article
Summer bridge programs (SBPs) are increasingly popular in higher education as a strategy for helping students prepare for college, yet empirical studies in this area have remained largely descriptive and in short supply. The purpose of this study was to measure the effect of SBP participation on preparation for college in four areas: academic self-efficacy, sense of belonging, and academic and social skills. Survey data from a SBP cohort were analyzed using descriptive and multivariate statistics. Results suggest that SBP participation positively affects specific academic skills (e.g., use of technology, interpreting syllabus) and academic self-efficacy. Positive beliefs about one’s academic skills and precollege aptitude also positively predict first-semester grades in college, explaining approximately 30% of the variance in first-semester GPA. Implications for further research, federal and institutional policy, and educational practice are highlighted.
Article
Young people who transition from the foster care system face many challenges including lack of support and other educational barriers. They are less likely to graduate from high school than their counterparts and go on to college yet despite challenges, many succeed and take advantage of higher education programs. In Michigan, a state with one of the highest percentage of youth in foster care, Michigan State University developed a small scale, targeted intervention to help transitioning foster youth achieve their goals of pursuing higher education. Led by the School of Social Work in collaboration with other colleges and disciplines, it was demonstrated that a campus based learning program for transitioning foster youth can help contribute toward a perceived increase in knowledge and information about college life, funding and admissions procedures. The educational process involved peer support, role modeling, mentoring and active learning sessions led by the faculty and students who were often foster care alumni themselves. Leaders and speakers came from a range of disciplines, institutions and organizations. This approach and curriculum contributed to perceptions of the camp as enhancing life skills, self-concept, empowerment and sense of purpose. Consequently, this program contributed to the resilience of those who attended and potentially helped build steps from care to higher education.
Introduction. Engaging research and practice: Extracurricular and curricular influences on college access
  • Z B Corwin
  • J E Colyar
  • W G Tierney
Corwin, Z. B., Colyar, J. E., & Tierney, W. G. (2005). Introduction. Engaging research and practice: Extracurricular and curricular influences on college access. In W. G. Tierney, Z. B. Corwin, & J. E. Colyar (Eds.), Preparing for college: Nine elements of effective outreach (pp. 1-9). Albany: State University of New York Press.
College access, financial aid, and college success for undergraduates from foster care
  • R J Davis
Davis, R. J. (2006). College access, financial aid, and college success for undergraduates from foster care. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
Supporting success: Improving higher education outcomes for students from foster care
  • J Emerson
  • L Bassett
Emerson, J., & Bassett, L. (2010). Supporting success: Improving higher education outcomes for students from foster care. Seattle, WA: Casey Family Programs.
Building policy momentum for foster youth support in postsecondary education
  • M Sarubbi
  • E Parker
  • L Sisneros
Sarubbi, M., Parker, E., & Sisneros, L. (2017, December). Building policy momentum for foster youth support in postsecondary education. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from http://www.ecs .org/wp-content/uploads/Building-Policy-Momentum-for-Foster-Youth-Support-in-Postsecondary-Education.pdf