Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Truly Invisible New Student

As I have written recently, I have just attended my forty-fifth college reunion. There I met a much more recent alum, a woman about 10 years out of college. We got to talking and after listening to me talk just a little bit about my work on behalf of first-year students, she asked me: “Well does your work do anything for students who have been raised in foster care?” I drew a total blank and responded in the negative.

She then asked me if I knew of any colleges in the US who had special initiatives to support the transition into college of first-year students who had been raised in foster care. She went on to explain to me that in many states these students are cut loose from state provided care at age 18 and left to fend for themselves.

I like to fancy myself as an advocate for unique cohorts of students in transition. But I had to admit that I had never given a moment of thought to the unique needs of this cohort of students in transition. And even worse, I couldn’t think of a college or university that has or does.

Just when I think this movement has really matured, I learn of another gaping hole in our first-year of college social safety net.

We are fond of using the metaphor of “family” to describe our campus cultures. But what a different meaning altogether this could and should take on for students have no family. How could I have gotten this far in this line of work for advocacy and social justice and never thought of this population? Here I have spent over four decades thinking about the normative cohort who have just been “released” from the prisons we call American high schools who come to us like ex cons going wild with their new found freedom. And I have never thought of those who have just been “released” from foster care”. How about you? What’s your level of awareness, let alone potential interest?

-John Gardner


  1. The Guardian Scholars Program is the one most frequently cited in helping youth who age out of foster care into higher education. I attended a conference they sponsored last year, Creating a Blueprint, in anticipation of creating a similar program on our campus. This population of students definitely needs more consideration.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Debra! I work in the foster care field and will share this information with our social workers.