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Audit: College Financial Aid For Arizona Foster Kids Helpful, But More Data Needed
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Arizona legislators voted four years ago to enact a program that waives tuition at state universities and community colleges for foster kids.
“It’s a fact, the better your education, the better your prospects for the future and I always say the kids in foster care shouldn’t just survive, they should thrive,” said Kris Jacober, executive director of the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation, which supported the initiative.
In the first two years, 142 students have taken advantage of the program at the cost of $550,000. Schools did not receive additional money from the Legislature to fund the program.
A state audit found the while the program is helping students attend college, more data is needed to show if students are successful.
This is in part because there is no baseline data on foster-care students' success in college and the program is young.
“Further, the data reported to the Provider by the universities and community college districts has been unreliable,” the report stated.
Arizona Board of Regents President Eileen Klein acknowledged in a response included in the report data collection was inconsistent.
She wrote the state universities would work to determine what information to track and how to do so.
Another difficulty is the program spreads across the state’s public universities and the community college system, and there is no central administration that unites the groups. In addition, the foster-care tuition waiver application is administered by a third-party organization.
The program is far from reaching all eligible teens who are or were in foster care. Hundreds of age out each year — between October 2016 and March 2017, 506 18-year-olds left the system.
Jacober says higher-education institutions need to reach out to young people in foster care earlier in their teen years.
“I think by the time you’re looking for universities or the community colleges to reach out to kids and say ‘hey we have this tuition waiver opportunity,’ they’re long gone,” Jacober said.