A new federal bill, proposed by Murray, would help smooth the path to college for homeless students and those in foster care.
Young people in foster care, or who are homeless during their school years, are some of the least-likely students to go to college. One report puts the number of foster care children who attend college at 10 percent, and of those, only about three percent graduate.
A new bill introduced by Sen. Patty Murray aims to improve those numbers. The legislation, introduced earlier this month, asks colleges and universities to boost outreach and resources for homeless and foster youth. It would make it easier for homeless and foster students to learn whether they qualify for financial aid, provide housing options between terms, and designate a single person at each school to work with students.
Murray has significant political pull on higher education issues this year; she’s the ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and the committee is working on a rewrite of the Higher Education Act. The proposed legislation, if passed, would become part of that act.
Murray’s bill would work in concert with an existing state program that has been helping Washington foster students go to college since 2007, a spokeswoman in Murray’s office said. The Passport to College Promise Scholarship program, run by the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), provides scholarship money, incentive funding for colleges to recruit and retain foster students, and a partnership with the College Success Foundation to provide support to students and training and technical assistance to campus staff.
An arrangement with the state Department of Social and Health Services allows Passport to College to automatically verify a child’s eligibility for financial aid, without a separate application. “It’s very streamlined and automated,” said Rachelle Sharpe, director of student financial assistance for WSAC. The Washington program served 406 students in the 2014-15 academic year. In addition, all foster children are automatically enrolled in the College Bound scholarship program, which pays tuition to students who maintain a 2.0 grade-point average and stay out of legal trouble.