Child Welfare

Status of Current Youth Transition Efforts (continued)

graphic of a person at a crossroads

Support for Post-Secondary Educational Aspirations:

The tuition waiver law for youth in voluntary extended care who were planning to attend one of the state supported post-secondary schools went into effect in the fall of 2000. This law enables any youth who was in Departmental custody or voluntary extended care at the time they graduated from high school, or got their GED, to be eligible for a tuition waiver for any of Maine's university and vocational technical schools, including Maine Maritime Academy. During the 2000-2001 academic year there were 24 youth who were eligible for the tuition waiver. The law has a cap of no more than 25 freshman students per year on the waiver. We nearly hit the cap in the first year the law was in effect! Of the 24 youth initially declared eligible for the waiver, 4 either dropped out of school, or were academically disqualified. However, two other freshman students transferred in the spring of 2001 to one of the schools covered by the tuition waiver. We are very pleased at how the new law is working for the benefit of older youth in care. The tuition waiver operates as a "straight waiver" meaning the waiver is applied to the student's account before other forms of federal and local non-loan financial assistance. Youth in care are required to apply for free federal financial assistance by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in order to cover non-tuition costs. For students who are attending post-secondary schools not under the tuition waiver law, the Department continues to set aside a portion of the Chafee program funds to supplement the student's other forms of grant and scholarship assistance. We recently heard that part of President Bush's budget plan included an additional national allocation of 60 million for college scholarships for older youth in care. We are very excited about this possibility as it would help us support more older youth in care with post-secondary education and technical training.

Supporting the higher educational aspirations of youth in care continues to be a major focus of Maine's Youth Transition Program. During the 2000-2001 academic year 70 older youth in voluntary extended care were in college, vocational technical school, or in another post-secondary educational program (14 more than last year) supported, in part, with Chafee program funds, or Title IV-B funds. (12 more youth in the state's Adoption Assistance Program are being provided with post-secondary educational financial support) The Department's Life Skills caseworkers strongly encourage and support the youth they work with to complete high school and make plans to attend a post-secondary educational program. Over the past 7 or 8 years the numbers of youth in Department care going on to a post-secondary educational program remained fairly steady; between 50 and 60 per academic year. This is the first year that the number of older youth in voluntary extended care in a post-secondary educational program has increased significantly. This increase may be somewhat attributable to the implementation of the state foster care tuition waiver law. We were able to acquire used Department computers to be available on loan for our post-secondary education youth who need them. Several of our older youth in care who are in a post-secondary program have these computers for use in their program coursework.

During the past two years, there has been considerable discussion about the establishment of a "community college system" in Maine. This would ease Maine's high school graduates into the world of post-secondary education in a less intimidating manner. Establishing a community college system in Maine would be of great benefit to older youth in care. Many older youth in voluntary extended care aren't ready to attend traditional post-secondary educational program, but may be good candidates for a community college program. We are hoping that this system will be in place, through Maine's Technical College system, within the next two years. A number of Legislative leaders are also strongly supporting the idea of increasing post-secondary educational opportunities for all youth in Maine. We are most pleased by this emphasis because it will also benefit older youth in Departmental care.