​​​New NYC Program Provides College Funds to Teens in Foster Care

As a foster youth, I did some research to learn about the details. Here’s what I found out.

by Faith Ornstein

Zephyr18, iStock

I am a high school senior in foster care. I have started my college applications and I know I won’t be able to pay every dollar for tuition, room and board, and other essentials. So when my editor at Represent told me about Mayor Adam’s announcement about a college financial assistance program for NYC-based youth in foster care, I wanted to learn more about it.  

On the city of New York’s website, Mayor Adams said: “College Choice will provide college students in foster care with the support they need to complete their college education successfully and attend the school of their choice, regardless of cost.” I thought this meant that my cousin, who is my foster parent, and I wouldn’t have to worry about taking out loans and being in debt.  

According to Chalkbeat, College Choice “will provide up to $15,000 a year, after financial aid, to cover remaining tuition costs for city teens in foster care at any college they choose, whether in New York City or beyond. The initiative will also cover housing costs and provide a $60 daily stipend to help students pay for food and books.” This benefit is also available for up to six months after graduation from college. 

College Choice Eligibility Details 

To learn more, I contacted Mike Zink, the executive director of At the Table, a nonprofit organization that “connects students currently and formerly in foster care with the educational resources they deserve.” I learned that to be eligible for this new scholarship, I have to be a full-time college student in foster care, maintain a 2.0 grade point average, and participate in any academic support programs I am eligible for. This assistance is available for a maximum of nine semesters for an associate degree or fifteen semesters for a bachelor’s degree, including summers.  

“The point of College Choice is to minimize the burden of loans.”

“Even if you age out of foster care while in the program, you’ll continue to receive support via College Choice,” said Zink.  

And this extra year of support is a good idea, because so many youth in care have other responsibilities that they often take more than two years or four years to get their degrees.  

Eligible young people can expect to be notified by their agency and the process starts from there. But, says Zink, “Anyone who is running into challenges with College Choice can get in touch with ACS or with The New York Foundling.” I’m not going to wait to hear from my agency; I’m going to reach out on my own just to be safe.  

What About Loans?  

I was curious to know if the $15,000 tuition assistance is disbursed before or after loans that might be included in a student’s financial aid package. I spoke with Bonnie Loughner, Assistant Vice President of the Fostering College Success Initiative at The New York Foundling, who said, “We strongly urge students not to take out loans as we want them to be able to afford college based on their financial aid package and the $15K they are eligible for under College Choice. Therefore, it is meant to replace the need for students to take out loans. College Choice will not pay back loans already taken out by the student.” 

This corroborates what Pilar Larancuent, Director of Youth Success at Graham Windham, said when I interviewed her about College Choice. Here are excerpts from the interview:  

Faith: Is the $15,000 disbursed before or after loans that are included in a student’s financial aid package?  

Faith Ornstein visits Stony Brook University campus.

Pilar Larancuent: ​​The point of College Choice is to minimize the burden of loans. Therefore, College Choice is applied after ACS knows what the student’s financial award is. What is the young person getting in New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), Federal Pell Grant (PAL), and other subsidies like Educational Training Vouchers (ETV)? Then if there is still a balance for which the young person would have to take out a loan, the $15,000 can be used toward either reducing or eliminating that loan debt.  

Faith: Right. So it sounds like this program really makes a difference for those that want to stay in the SUNY/CUNY system because tuition is low. But if I wanted to leave the state or go to, say, New York University, which is private and costs about $80,000, the $15,000 doesn’t go that far. If I attend Hunter College, which is part of the CUNY network, the cost of attendance is $24,377 per year, which College Choice may significantly offset. But if I wanted to attend a private university out of state? Last year, I visited Haverford College, where the total cost of attending is $81,330.  

Larancuent: Yes, you are correct: If you’re going to a CUNY and SUNY school, depending on the schools, your tuition will be less than a private school. Or if you go to a school out of state. We have a student that’s currently in Atlanta at Spelman so no matter what we do, her tuition is out-of-state tuition, and it’s a private school so the cost is even higher. So with all the financing that she gets she might still have to take out a certain amount of loans. 

Faith: Are there limitations to what the $60 daily stipend can be used for? 

Larancuent: That money can be used however students wish. What’s really exciting for our young people is that there’s additional [financial] support in place to take part in social aspects of college like joining clubs and meeting friends.  

A Big Help  

So is College Choice as good as the mayor makes it sound? As a youth in care without my parents’ support, I feel reassured that my extended family won’t need to feel overwhelmed about paying for college. Fifteen thousand dollars a year toward tuition, plus a daily $60 stipend is a big help, especially if I choose to go to a SUNY or CUNY school. That stipend amounts to $1800 a month to help pay for food, clothing, and other expenses, even for socializing with friends.  

Still, I have to closely examine the financial aid packages that colleges will hopefully offer me. If I decide that I want to go out of state, I might still have to get a job while being in school because the tuition will be exorbitant and yearly $15,000 tuition assistance wouldn’t be enough, unless I also got a large scholarship from the school, which sometimes happens. But overall, College Choice will make things much easier for me and other teenagers in the foster care system.  

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