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Educational Results Partnership Study Uncovers Pathways to Foster Youth Success in Community Colleges

Foster youth lag behind their peers in college completion, but a new report highlights data-informed practices that can improve outcomes.



Although foster youth students in California’s community colleges underperform the general student population on several key measures, a new report released by Educational Results Partnership and California College Pathways offers actionable insights for colleges and policy-makers seeking to improve outcomes. Using predictive analytics, this report also identifies “bright spots” and promising approaches in the community college system that are contributing to student success.

We are committed to closing equity gaps in education and the labor market. Our research centers on improving academic and workforce outcomes for all, including students of color, foster youth, and students in high-poverty regions. 

Using a combination of quantitative analysis, surveys, and qualitative interviews, the report provides educators and administrators with a snapshot of the current state of foster youth in community colleges, as well as efforts to address disparities. The quantitative analysis draws on the Cal-PASS Plus system of data, managed through a partnership between ERP and San Joaquin Delta College. Among the report’s key findings:

  • Educational outcomes vary widely among foster youth of different ethnic backgrounds, with Asian foster youth outperforming African American, Latino, and White students on most measures. African American foster youth, who make up one in five foster youth in California community colleges, had some of the poorest outcomes of any ethnic group.

  • A student’s high school experience plays a key role in determining success in community college. The fewer high schools attended, the greater the chances foster youth had of persisting from term to term. Earning a standard high school diploma (as opposed to a GED or having no diploma) also increases the likelihood of persistence.

  • Algorithms were used to identify pathways through which foster youth complete a degree, certificate, or transfer to a four-year university. Students who attempted any math and English course in the first two years of college were more likely to complete a college credential than students who did not.

  • An exploratory analysis examined the impact of institutional and program factors on completion of 30 units within an academic year, a key predictor of completing a degree or transfer. Colleges that had dedicated computer facilities for foster youth, an early warning system for academic challenges, and served a high proportion of foster youth students in dedicated programs had better outcomes.

The report revealed a variety of proactive measures colleges are taking to remove institutional barriers and improve the odds of success for foster youth. College leaders widely agreed that training faculty on how best to support foster youth was an important step to improving outcomes for these students. “Bright spot” colleges – those that had better than expected performance among foster youth students – devote substantial time and resources to help students maintain housing and other basic needs. Some employ modern technology, such as smartphone alerts and reminders, to help students stay connected and engaged with their coursework.

“There’s a compelling need to improve college completion rates for foster youth,” says James Lanich, Ph.D., President and C.E.O. of Educational Results Partnership. “A post-secondary credential is critical to landing a living-wage job and embarking on a career path. Our goal in this study is to provide data that illuminates the drivers of success to help shape policies and programs throughout the educational pipeline.”

About California College Pathways

California College Pathways (CCP) is a public-private partnership managed by John Burton Advocates for Youth, dedicated to creating a seamless system of support for foster youth as they transition from high school to colleges and universities and as they work towards their post-secondary goals. CCP supports research to better understand foster youth experiences to and through college, including the identification of systemic barriers and effective practices to support this important student population. The network of campuses, and the funders and practitioners who support them, use research findings to support the continuous improvement of post-secondary, secondary and child welfare systems through actionable data, training and technical assistance, as well as to engage in advocacy and policy implementation efforts that strengthen the connections among research, policy and practice that can improve the experience of foster youth.

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