Tiffany Bui reports:
For Ace Goff, applying to college was scary. While many of her peers had at least one parent helping them, Goff was on her own as a teenager in foster care.
“I was going to school and then I was working as much as I was going to school. So every day it would be right after classes I’m going straight to work,” Goff said. “I’m not even going home, I’m going straight to work because, you know, my bills need to be paid.”
Goff wanted to make sure other kids like her wouldn’t have to feel that way – which is why she advocated for free college tuition for youth in foster care. The Fostering Higher Education Act passed the Minnesota Legislature with bipartisan approval during the latest session.
Those who have been in the foster care system since they were at least 13 or older are eligible, and they must be under 27 years old. Students attending either private or public universities can receive assistance.
“I feel like when this bill passed, it helped a lot of youth understand, like, hey, we’ve been through it, we understand it, we’re here to help you. We’re here to make positive things for you,” Goff said.
Supporters say it’s a bill by and for those who have been in the foster care system. Goff helped brainstorm the beginnings of the bill as a fellow for the nonprofit Foster Advocates.
“We are meeting the potential of fosters to have full and robust and wonderful lives with
a program that will also match the potential of their dreams,” said Hoang Murphy, executive director of Foster Advocates.
Murphy says there is very little government support for foster youth in higher education. He cites research that found just 2% of students who had been in foster care graduate college on time – compared to 60% of their peers.
“We know that going to college isn’t going to solve all the challenges that people face in life … But the big difference is that when we think about how you make it in the world, it’s through social connections, it’s through your place in society. And it’s largely through your family structures,” Murphy said. “Foster’s have had that connection and that thread cut. And so they need to find it in work and in school.”
Indigenous and Black children are disproportionately caught up in the child welfare system. Murphy is hopeful that the tuition assistance will help alleviate similar racial disparities in higher education enrollment.
“If there’s a disproportionate impact that the foster care system has, then there will be a disproportionate benefit that this program then will alleviate,” Murphy said. “It’s my deepest hope that young people take advantage of this program.”
Goff is 21-years-old and striving for her dream at St. Cloud State University – where she will also be supported by the new law.
She says she wants to create transitional housing for foster youth, where they can have the role models she didn’t always have growing up.
“I went through some crazy stuff, okay. But I’m not the first person, I’m not the last. But if I can use my story to help somebody else in a productive way, whether it’s … them being like, ‘Oh, I can relate’ or to making a bigger change like this: ‘Hey, y’all about to go to school for free.’ I’m going to do that.”
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