By Ariama C. Long
Mayor Eric Adams is being praised for his innovative financial support program, College Choice, which will provide college students in foster care with a daily stipend and remaining costs of college tuition—up to $15,000 each year.
College Choice builds off a promise to improve the city’s education system on all fronts, similar to Adams’ fortifying the Fair Futures program to include youth in foster care from ages 21 to 26. All full-time college students in foster care will be eligible for the benefits as long as they have applied for financial aid, maintain a 2.0 grade point average, and participate in any academic support programs, said the mayor’s office.
“I realized how we have abandoned young people that are in foster care and I was focused and my North Star was to see a program like this,” said Adams at a presser on Oct. 4.
About 230 young people currently in the city’s foster care system will benefit this upcoming school year from College Choice. According to city stats, there are 7,111 children in foster care as of December 2021.
The average school attendance rate for foster care children who are 16-20 years old is 58% overall. In the 2019-2020 school year there were 252 foster care youth enrolled in public high schools. Most were identified as 17-year-old Black females at graduation. In the 2020-2021 school year there were 2,155 foster care youth enrolled in public high schools. Again, primarily Black and Latina girls ages 16-18 years old were on track to graduate.
“In order to help those who are going through a lot, we must have leaders who have gone through a lot. And they personify that in a very real way. The dollars that we are allocating to pay tuition, to give money in their pockets to pay for the necessary necessities they need while going to college, and then not just having a cliff once they reach the end of their college life, we have a bridge to allow them to transition into making some of the important decisions that are needed,” continued Adams.
Adams said he was pleased that the city could put the dollars in to make sure that the program is funded properly. College Choice is estimated to cost the city about $10 million. Certain benefits will be covered by the Administration for Children’s Services, such as tuition and fees, room and board, and a stipend of $60 per day to cover food and other expenses while attending school. The stipend is available for students up to six months after graduation from college, said the mayor’s office.
Students, under The Dorm Project, have the option of living in residence halls if attending in-person or online classes in the city. If outside the city, they can live in housing sponsored by that college or off-campus private housing. These options are similarly offered with the College Choice program.
“With the Dorm Project, I was able to pursue my dual bachelor’s and master’s degrees without having to worry about my financial situation. I was really able to just focus on my goals and my studies. The College Choice program is now a resource available to all youth in care if they choose to pursue higher education,” said Sanjida Afruz, student participant in College Choice at City College. “The College Choice program essentially says that young people in foster care can and should dream big. With time and evident passion from people, like Mayor Adams and Commissioner Dannhauser, we are seeing changes that we have advocated for, and it makes me happier than ever.”
The City University of New York (CUNY) Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez commended the College Choice program. He said a college degree is a major step toward upward mobility and economic freedom, but it is often out of reach for students because they can’t pay for costs not covered by financial aid. He’s proud that the city is providing a financial pathway for young people in foster care to pay for tuition, room and board costs, and other essentials, like food and transportation.
“These young people shouldn’t have to go hungry or build debt to attend college,” said Rodríguez in a statement. “More than half of the students benefiting from College Choice this academic year are attending a CUNY college and we are grateful to Mayor Adams for helping these young people get the support they need to achieve their educational dreams.”
Assemblymember Nikki Lucas spoke on her full support of the program and how it will assist students in foster care in her district in East New York, Brooklyn.
“Unfortunately, there is a disproportionate number of students in foster care in my district, which makes the ‘College Choice’ program even more important for students in the 60th Assembly District,” said Lucas. “The program gives students an opportunity to go to college with a little less stress in their lives. This program might be the difference we need to have more students continue their education on the college level. Now we have to provide the outreach to get the information to the students who are eligible.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w