San Diego, Fresno, Sonoma and Yuba Counties Win California Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge, First Statewide Effort Focused on Helping Foster Youth Apply for College Financial Aid
Winners announced at the April 10 Foster Youth Education Summit

Press release
John Burton Advocates for Youth

SAN FRANCISCO, April 10 — More California foster youth who are seniors in high school are headed to college, thanks to the first coordinated statewide effort to help them submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and receive financial aid for college.  As part of the inaugural California Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge, led by John Burton Advocates for Youth, four county offices of education were named winners for their efforts and received checks at the Foster Youth Education Summit in Pomona on Tuesday, April 10.

Yuba County led the way and won the very small county category with a perfect score of 100% of its high school seniors who are foster youth completing the FAFSA.  Sonoma won the small county category, with a completion rate of 85%, which is about double the estimated rate that these students have applied for student aid in past years.  Yuba’s and Sonoma’s county offices of education both received $500 to use to supplement activities in their county designed to support foster youth to successfully transition into college. 

Fresno County won the medium-sized county category with a FAFSA submission rate of 83%, and San Diego won the large county category with at 65% completion rate.  Both counties received a $1,000 award for their success. Counties were placed in categories based on the number of foster youth who are high school seniors rather than the county’s population.

Each student who submitted a FAFSA in the winning counties will also be entered into a drawing to win a $500 scholarship.

JBAY Project Manager Debbie Raucher said the California Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge was created because foster youth leave millions of dollars in college financial aid behind each year even though they almost always qualify.  The process to reach foster youth is much different than for the general student population, and JBAY teamed with the California Department of Education and Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to help put more of these students on a path to college.

John Burton Advocates for Youth is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization founded by retired state Senator John Burton.  Burton congratulated the winners and the efforts by counties across the state to help foster youth apply for financial aid.

“Everyone who participated in the California Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge has done a great job of opening the doors of higher education to the most vulnerable and making their college dreams come true,” Burton said. “Over 90 percent of foster youth say they aspire to go to college. Having someone to guide you through the seemingly simple effort of completing the FAFSA, and then receiving the resources to actually pursue a post-secondary education, can be a life-changing event.”

Raucher said foster youth have historically submitted the FAFSA at a significantly lower rate than that of the general student population.  About 60 percent of non-foster youth in California complete the FAFSA annually, but difficulties in identifying and reaching foster youth through traditional campaigns have kept them from applying for financial aid.  She added that JBAY is also sponsoring legislation, SB 940, that would alter deadlines to make California’s financial aid program, the Cal Grant, more accessible to foster youth.

“Completing the FAFSA and qualifying for student aid will have a huge impact on the lives of each one of these students and the community as a whole,” said Yali Lincroft of the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, which helped fund the FAFSA Challenge.  “Going to college can help these kids avoid poverty, homelessness and open the door to a rewarding career and happier life.” The effort also received funding from the Stuart Foundation and Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Counties are continuing to help foster youth complete the FAFSA. The Challenge rewarded the counties that had the highest submission rates by the March 1 priority deadline. FAFSA submissions received after that date may still qualify students for aid, but those students usually receive less money than those whose applications were received by the priority deadline.