"Nationwide, former foster youth struggle to complete college. Though 70% of them want a college degree, only 3 to 11% are able to obtain that degree – a stark contrast to the 28% of adults in the general population. Fortunately, Florida is a leader among the states that are trying to help more former foster youth obtain higher education.
There are 4 categories of young adults who are eligible for the statutory tuition and fee exemption:
Students who were in the custody of DCF when they turned 18; students placed in the custody of relatives under Fla. Stat. 39.5085, the “relative caregiver program”; students who were adopted from DCF after May 5, 1997; and students who, having spent at least 6 months in DCF custody, were placed into guardianship after turning 16.
The Florida statute does not place any limitation on the number of hours or types of courses that are exempted for eligible students. The current limitations are imposed by rule or by written policies and practices that are de facto unpromulgated rules.
According to public records information provided by DCF in 2012, there were 12,756 adults aged 18-27 who fall into the 2nd and 3rd categories. There were also 9,882 adults in that age range who were adopted from foster care in 1997 or later. Thus, the potential population of eligible students totaled 22,638.
Approximately 15% of the eligible population uses the tuition exemption – that is 3,448 students used tuition exemption out of a possible 22,638 total eligible in 2012.
A review of each university’s website, conducted in 2012, showed that 5 universities had a policy or procedure that mentioned the tuition and fee exemption, 3 universities referenced a previous version of the statute, 1 university left out a category of eligible youth, and 2 universitiesreferenced the current version of the statute. All five universities with published information had at least one item of inaccurate information.
Each year, Florida colleges and universities enroll students who are not aware that they are eligible for the tuition and fee exemption. We suspect this is primarily a problem for students who were not in licensed care when they turned 18 – and therefore did not have the ongoing support of an independent living caseworker.
Another reason for this disconnect might be that many former foster youth are not ready to begin higher education until their early 20s after they have no further legal relationship with their Community Based Care provider. In any event, we have heard of a number of youth who have paid for tuition when, in fact, they were entitled to the exemption.
Most school websites do not inform students about the tuition waiver. Even the Florida Department of Education website does not adequately inform students about the exemption. Nor does it appear that schools use the data from the financial aid form to alert students to the possibility that they might qualify for the exemption."
Let's quit paying for free educational costs for eligible youth in this state.