Opportunity program for former foster care youth now in 7th year
According to the U.S Department of Education, more than 700,000 children and youth are in foster care at any given time, and each year an estimated 20,000 of these youth emancipate or age out of the foster care system. The U.S Department of Education further reports that nationwide, less than half of the children in foster care finish high school with a diploma, and of those who do, less than 3 percent graduate from a 4-year college with a degree.
Students who have experienced foster care or aged out of the care system need and require a range of resources that extend beyond traditional student success models and address retention, graduation rates, debt at graduation, transitional housing, food insecurity and financial literacy. To address barriers in post-secondary education access and completion for students impacted by foster care, many colleges and universities, including CSU, have invested in the development of campus support programs.
CSU’s Sullivan-Deckard Scholarship Opportunity Program was created in 2015 with a $2.3 million gift from Frank and Barb Sullivan and Jennifer and Daryl Deckard. Since then, the program has provided 40 scholarships to youth who have aged out of the foster care system in the state of Ohio and chose to pursue an undergraduate degree here.
Students participating in the Sullivan-Deckard Scholarship program receive financial aid for tuition and other educational costs, including books and instructional fees, as well as year-round housing with a year-round meal plan. Additionally, students have access to the Pratt Center, which supports CSU students who have experienced foster with academic coaching, tutoring, peer mentoring and extended project-based learning opportunities in the areas of vocational training, job placement. The university was recently awarded $290,000 by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to provide tuition and wrap-around services to young adults who aged out of foster care. The grant will expand on the success of the Pratt Center within the Division of Diversity, Inclusion and University Engagement.
On Friday, June 25, CSU formally welcomed both the 6th and 7th cohorts on Sullivan-Deckard scholars to the university. Although the three students from cohort 6 are now rising sophomores, they missed out on a formal induction ceremony last summer due the pandemic. In fact, with campus closed last summer, cohort 6 scholars began their program while living in Reserve Square Apartments, and then later transferred to their on-campus home. Despite the Covid-related challenges they faced, including online classes and reduced on-campus activities, cohort 6 scholars finished their first semester with an impressive 3.79 average GPA, thanks in part to the Pratt Center’s continued offerings of virtual programming, meals, care packages and more.
Last week also marked the induction of three recent high school graduates of cohort 7, which is symbolic as their projected graduation year is 2025, representing 10 years of the Sullivan-Deckard Scholarship Opportunity Program. The three new students ended their formal induction with a welcome surprise: Residence hall essentials donated by Fill This House.
The Sullivan-Deckard initiative creates access, but in addition, it supports inclusion and equitable experiences for students while they participate, and according to Christopher “CJ” Morris, a 2021 graduate of Maple Heights High School and cohort 7 member, the program “allows me to have a voice; this is my time and place.”