WMU's statewide effort to boost foster youth college graduation receives funding

Contact: Cheryl Roland
Photo of Yvonne Unrau, Chris Harris and Maddy Day.

From left: Yvonne Unrau, Chris Harris and Maddy Day

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The Kresge Foundation has awarded a second major grant to Western Michigan University to continue its successful Fostering Success Michigan effort aimed at helping former foster care youth access and succeed in college through a growing statewide network of higher education programs dedicated to that goal.

The new three-year award from Kresge for Phase 2 of the effort follows successful completion of work funded initially in late 2011. The new award and matching funds triggered by the award will bring $900,000 to WMU to support Fostering Success Michigan. That statewide network was launched with the 2011 Kresge funding and focuses on increasing college access and success for former foster youth. The 2015 funding will expand the capabilities of that network and help move it toward becoming a self-sustaining initiative.

"Due to the many barriers they face, young people aging out of foster care have college attainment rates that are distressingly low, making it much less likely that they will successfully transition into adulthood and meaningful careers," says Caroline Altman Smith, senior program officer on The Kresge Foundation Education Team. "WMU has made a unique institutional commitment to boosting the success of former foster youth by using a collaborative and comprehensive approach, and the school has recorded some impressive accomplishments that it is sharing statewide."

Primary goals

The primary goals of the new three-year effort supported by the foundation are to:

  • Enhance and strengthen Fostering Success Michigan through the development of a three- to five-year business plan that will lead the network to become self-sustaining.
  • Fortify the capacity of Fostering Success Michigan and increase the size of the network and its ability to have state- and nationwide impact through the delivery of best-practice models, toolkits and resources that will lead to increased college success for students from foster care.

"We are committed to changing statewide systems to fill gaps and streamline processes that prevent Michigan’s most vulnerable citizens—young people who age out of foster care—from participating and succeeding in education and career opportunities," says Dr. Yvonne Unrau, director of WMU’s Center for Fostering Success and a professor in the School of Social Work. "With this funding we continue the work of removing barriers and creating innovative solutions to support young people in foster care and help them thrive in higher education."

Unrau says the new work will continue under the guidance of Maddy Day, who will continue as project director in Phase 2 of the Fostering Success Michigan work.

"We will be looking at best practices for campus-based programs for foster youth," says Day, who serves as director of outreach and training for WMU's Center for Fostering Success. "Fostering Success Michigan is one of only 10 initiatives of its kind in the country, and we've been recognized as a national model. Significant components of our strategy have been recognized as best practices nationally."

About Fostering Success Michigan

Fostering Success Michigan is a signature program of WMU's Center for Fostering Success, which also is home to the University's celebrated Seita Scholars Program as well as a recently established coach training program for professionals who work with foster youth. The Seita Scholars program was established in 2008 and, serving some 150 former foster youth annually, is one of the largest and most comprehensive programs of its kind in the nation. The Seita Scholars program is a member of Fostering Success Michigan’s higher education consortium and a key partner in that effort.

Day notes a number of accomplishments over the initial four years of Fostering Success Michigan:

  • The number of campus-based programs that support college students from foster care increased from five to 14 (with nine funded by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services).
  • 858 students from foster care have been supported by campus-based programs in Michigan.
  • 101 students have graduated from institutions with campus-based support programs.
  • 49 former foster youth made the Dean's List and 24 studied abroad.
  • More than 30 student-led conference presentations and workshops have been held allowing students to support each other and reach out and inform youth still in the foster care system.
Photo of a Seita Scholar graduate with program staff members.

Fostering Success Michigan includes the well-known Seita Scholars Program.

Fostering Success Michigan focuses on developing resources to reach and support students through professionals and organizations in its network. The organization has defined and targets five regions that cover the state of Michigan. In each region, network partners, ranging from caregivers and foster youth to school districts, social service organizations and colleges, meet regularly to share information. And once each year, a statewide summit brings network members together to share information more broadly.

An information-rich website—fosteringsuccessmichigan.com—features toolkits, webinars and guides developed by network staff for students and their supporters. The site has dramatically enhanced the capacity of participants in the Fostering Success Michigan Network over the past four years. And strong collaborations have been forged with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan College Access Network—MCAN.

The network's work is taking place in an environment in which, nationally, only 20 percent of former foster youth who graduate from high school attend college. And students who have been in the foster care system are eight times less likely than the general population to earn degrees.

"Students from foster care are the most vulnerable students in our education system," says Day. "The support from Fostering Success Michigan provides a coordinated effort to system change that ultimately is designed to help Michigan’s students from foster care to be successful in earning college degrees. We need to invest in these young people to help them become educated professionals equipped to participate in our state and local economy."

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