The San Diego County Office of Education was recently honored for its success in helping foster youth find a financial path to college.
San Diego won the large county category of the California Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge, a statewide effort to improve access to college for foster youth by helping them fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The office received a $1,000 award last week at the Foster Youth Education Summit in Pomona from John Burton Advocates for Youth. The money will be used to assist students, including with hands-on FAFSA events and small scholarships.
Sixty-five percent of San Diego County's high school seniors in foster care completed the FAFSA. Each of the foster youth from San Diego County who completed the form will be entered into a drawing for a $500 scholarship to be awarded in May.
"These youths need a lot of encouragement and assistance to take the life-changing step of applying for financial aid," said SDCOE project specialist Mindy Kukich, who led the local effort, in a statement. The project included phone calls, emails, "and even a few home visits," she said.
Kukich and her colleagues helped 97 of the 153 high school seniors in foster care submit complete FAFSA applications. In comparison, the completion rate was 49 percent for the general population of high school seniors in the county.
This is the first year for the FAFSA Challenge, which is led by John Burton Advocates for Youth, a San Francisco-based nonprofit founded by retired state Sen. John Burton.
"It's a tremendous achievement when the percentage of foster youth submitting the FAFSA exceeds that of the student population in general," said Burton in a statement. "I congratulate San Diego County on their success and the hard work their staff did to make a huge difference in the lives of these students."
The FAFSA Challenge is the first coordinated effort in California specifically designed to reach foster youth. These teens leave millions of dollars in college financial aid behind each year, even though they almost always qualify for assistance.
JBAY Project Director Debbie Raucher said about 60 percent of non-foster youth in California complete the FAFSA annually, but difficulties in identifying and reaching them through traditional campaigns have kept them from applying for financial aid.