Content brought to you by Michigan Education Trust
By the time she aged out of foster care at 19 years old, Jasmine Uqdan had lived in 24 different homes and attended 15 different schools. These days Uqdan, 24, works three jobs while attending Oakland Community College. She is nine credits away from an associate's degree. Next, she plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in social work, so she can help other foster kids like herself. To help cover the expenses of her education, she is in the process of applying for grant dollars through Michigan Education Trust's (MET) Fostering Futures Program. This program, established in 2009, provides college scholarship money to former foster youth.
"Young people who are in foster care have gone through so much in their short lives. Fostering Futures is about Michigan assisting some of our most vulnerable young people with educational expenses, so that they can have better futures," says Maura Corrigan, director of Michigan Department of Human Services.
According to Robin Lott, executive director of MET, 70 percent of teens who emancipate from foster care in Michigan report that they want to attend college, but fewer than 10 percent of those who graduate high school enroll in college. Of that 10 percent, a mere 3 percent actually graduate from college.
"We try to help fill the gap for these students where other grants or scholarships leave an unmet need," Lott says.
Eligible applicants can apply to receive scholarship money to put toward tuition, room and board, school supplies and related equipment.
Uqdan plans to apply for assistance from the Fostering Futures Program to help with just those expenses. "I don't want to take more than I need," she says. "I don't want to take from someone else."
The average scholarship amount awarded is $3,000, Lott says.
"We cap it at $6,100 per student per semester," she notes. "We look at whether they are getting loans or other scholarships. We assess their need, and we find that a lot of these students don't need that much."
Jeanne Peterson of Clinton Township starts back to school this fall at Baker College, where she is pursuing her bachelor's degree in social work. She hasn't had to take out a loan yet and hopes that the Fostering Futures Program dollars for which she is applying will help keep it that way.
The 22-year-old was in and out of foster care starting at age 14. She was split up from her sisters and lived in multiple homes. Her mentors have helped immensely in assisting Peterson in charting out a path to success. Currently, Peterson works as a machine operator at Chrysler, rents her own one-bedroom apartment and owns a car. Like Uqdan, she wants to use her eventual social work degree to help youth currently in foster care.
"I want to work with teens," she says.
Approximately 13,000 children are in foster care in Michigan at any given time. Most are in temporary foster care settings because of parental abuse or neglect. Peterson and Uqdan are in the minority of former foster care children in the state in that both are gainfully employed and pursuing a college degree. Research has shown that less than half of former foster youth are employed at age 23.
During its early years, the Fostering Futures Program disbursed funds to students at four Michigan universities that had established programs to aid foster care youth: Western Michigan University, Michigan State University, Ferris State University and the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. Funds were distributed through the universities' financial aid offices.
Last year, MET partnered with the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS), the state agency that oversees among other things Michigan's child and adult protective services, foster care and adoptions. Together MET and DHS raised $187,280 in their first year working together.
"Our goal last year was to raise $100,000, but thanks to the generosity of sponsors, donors and a $50,000 match from the Blavin Foundation, we surpassed our goal and have been able to help even more former foster care students in 2014," Lott says.
These funds were distributed to nine Michigan colleges and universities that had implemented programs to support former foster care youth. The additions were Baker College, Eastern Michigan University, Saginaw Valley State University, University of Michigan Flint and Wayne State University.
Since then, the MET board has approved a resolution expanding the number of institutions eligible for MET charitable funds to include any Michigan associate or baccalaureate degree-granting college with foster care students who have unmet need. Eligibility requirements include that the student had been in foster care after their 13th birthday and that funding they receive through Fostering Futures be used in tandem with their Michigan Education Training Voucher (ETV). The ETV program provides up to $4,000 per year to students in accredited trade programs, colleges or universities.
"We're excited to already have 60 applications under review from students for the fall semester," Lott says. "We already have approved 16 of those."
Funding the program
On Sept. 25, MET and DHS will hold a charity benefit at the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester, which will be attended by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and First Lady Sue Snyder who, along with WJR radio host Paul W. Smith, will serve as honorary chairpersons. Tickets are $100 per person, and sponsorships at a wide range of levels are available. For $500, you can get admission to a pre-dinner VIP reception with Gov. Snyder. All of the night's proceeds go toward scholarships for foster youth.
Dinner, live entertainment and a silent auction are included in the third annual event, but the hallmark of the evening is always the remarks delivered by former foster youth, Lott maintains.
A recent boon to fundraising efforts for the program was the allotment of $750,000 from the Michigan Legislature, which will aid in establishing the program's endowment. And at any time, individuals and organizations can purchase a charitable tuition contract from MET at a reduced rate to offer as a scholarship in their community. They will then be eligible for an individual or business tax deduction.
"Many of Michigan's foster youth could not go to college without the scholarship money that comes from Fostering Futures," says Corrigan. "College opens up a whole new world for foster youth. They have so much potential! They just need some support."