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We’re Working Collaboratively to Create a College Path for Foster High School Students

The Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (WAICU) and our member colleges and universities work closely with our Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) partners in support of a variety of student populations.

WAICU is currently partnering with WTCS on another important initiative to support current and former foster youth students and their aspirations to enroll in higher education and persist to graduation. Statistics show that 80 percent of foster youth surveyed wish to pursue higher education after high school graduation, but only about 13 percent enroll.

Sadly, among all foster youth, only 3 to 4 percent obtain a four-year college degree. To support the dreams and aspirations of these students, WAICU and WTCS have partnered together to remove barriers and to provide a guided transition to a higher education experience.

Our institutions understand that to reach foster youth, it is critical to engage with them well before they graduate from high school. That is why two WAICU institutions, St. Norbert College and Lakeland University, and two WTCS institutions, Northeastern Wisconsin Technical College and Lakeshore Technical College, are piloting partnerships to build needed support for foster youth students while still in high school through preestablished dual enrollment programs.

When a student enrolls at a Wisconsin technical college, the partner then provides a supported handoff for these students to the WAICU-member campus in support of a degree pathway. We hope to replicate this partnership through the state.

WAICU members and Wisconsin Technical Colleges have identified trust- ed stakeholders working closely with foster youth students, such as independent living coordinators, local Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) organizations, guidance counselors, career coaches, foster care coordinators, teachers, CESAs, and other groups to share information on college opportunities while students are still in high school.

Our partners have also found that it can be difficult to engage a population of students that are not often trusting, given the many disappointments and changes they have experienced. Therefore, as part of this process, we continue to engage foster youth students to share their experiences.

As is said in the foster youth community—nothing about us, without us—reinforcing that unless the youth we hope to support are engaged in the solution, we will be unable to address the persistently low college enrollment and attainment rates.

Higher education represents an opportunity for all students to define and redefine who they are and what they want to become. Our members stand ready to support career aspirations and self-actualization for a population that has been shuffled through systems and who seek belonging and opportunity.