Foster youth face substantial obstacles in achieving college success

Report sheds light on barriers to college success for foster youth, and implications for policy and practice

Two young women sit with packages on the steps of a building

BERKELEY, CA – Young people who have been in foster care face substantial obstacles to success in college, according to a new report by RTI International, the John Burton Foundation, and the Stuart Foundation.

"Charting the Course: Using Data to Support Foster Youth College Success" offers insights into the educational experiences of foster youth attending 31 community colleges and universities in California. 

The report includes several key findings indicating that, while there are some bright spots, foster youth often fare worse than other students on key indicators of postsecondary academic achievement.  For example, larger percentages of foster youth are required to take remedial courses in math and/or English compared with non-foster youth.  Furthermore, foster youth do not consistently access financial aid or certain state and federal support programs. 

The report carries implications for public policy, starting with improved awareness of the needs of foster youth at all stages of the education system. 

"One of the most important ways to support foster youth students in postsecondary education is to better understand their experiences and needs," said Christina Stearns, J.D., a researcher in RTI's Center for Evaluation and Study of Educational Equity.

The report grew out of the work of the California College Pathways initiative, a public-private partnership that supports campuses and community organizations to help foster youth succeed in postsecondary education. It appears at a time when California has extended foster care to age 21, a change that will likely result in more foster youth attending college. 

RTI International analyzed the campus data and are lead authors of the report. The John Burton Foundation provided technical assistance and support with data collection and reporting to the campuses, and provided critical feedback on the report. The report was made possible by generous support by Pritzker Foster Care Initiative, The Walter S. Johnson Foundation, and The Stuart Foundation. RTI would also like to acknowledge the commitment of the 31 campuses that converged on a shared set of metrics and shared their data in an effort to better understand the opportunities and challenges facing foster youth. 

RTI and the John Burton Foundation will hold a webinar about the report November 17 at 11 a.m. Pacific. Registration is available here

For more on California College Pathways, visit