From foster care to college: Young adults' perceptions of factors that impacted their academic achievement

Steve J Rios, Florida International University


Despite increased Federal, state, and local efforts in the United States to improve outcomes among young adults who emancipate from foster care, low educational achievement and attainment continue to characterize this vulnerable subpopulation. Approximately 50% of foster children do not obtain a high school diploma or a general equivalency diploma (GED). Only about 20% of former foster children enroll in college, compared to 60% of youth not in foster care. The purpose of this study was to explore, describe and explain the perceptions of college students who had lived in foster care regarding the external and internal influences that impacted their academic achievement and attainment. Interviews with a purposefully selected sample of 24 Florida college students were conducted; transcripts were coded and analyzed thematically. Findings included that participants experienced a particular set of external and internal influences at school, in foster care settings, and in the community. External influences include interactions with (a) multiple non-relative guardians and case workers, (b) relatives, especially siblings, (c) mentors, (d) teachers and school administrators, and (e) school counselors. Internal influences include the barriers of anger and bad behavior and a newly identified set of internal characteristics, called success strengths by the researcher, that promote academic achievement and college attainment. Implications are as follows: (a) Future theory on academic achievement concerning foster youth should reflect the importance of the affective aspect of school interactions. (b) Policy should mandate awareness training for educators, social workers, and other adults who work with former foster youth to increase professionals' awareness of the barriers, supports and success strengths that impact the academic lives of children and youth in foster care. (c) Adult educators and human resource development professionals should develop and implement appropriate new education and training materials and interventions. Future research may include a similar interview with former foster youth who graduated from college and with foster youth who leave school before graduating. Finally, a study with a nationally representative sample of college enrolled former foster children should be conducted to determine the relative importance of the barriers, supports and success strengths identified in this study.

Subject Area

Social work|Adult education|School counseling|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Rios, Steve J, "From foster care to college: Young adults' perceptions of factors that impacted their academic achievement" (2008). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3347043.