The Higher Education Mentoring InitiativeUniversity of CincinnatiPartner for Achieving School SuccessThe Higher Education Mentoring InitiativeCollege of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services

The Higher Education Mentoring Initiative

Purpose of HEMI

Every child has the right to an education. But not every child has the same opportunity for an education. Foster youth – children who have been abused and neglected and are now being cared for by Hamilton County – face daunting challenges when it comes to achieving higher education and leading successful adult lives.

Hamilton County has more than 850 foster children on any given day. While the ultimate goal is to reunite those children with their biological families, the harsh reality is that substance abuse, mental illness and a myriad of other social dysfunctions make it impossible in many cases. More than 150 youth each year will emancipate from the local foster care system, becoming adults with little support, structure or knowledge to make it on their own.

Statistically, their future will likely be troubled. According to a 2004 Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care report:

  • 25 percent are incarcerated within first two years
  • 20 percent become homeless
  • 58 percent complete high school, compared to 87 percent of the general population
  • 3 percent earn college degrees, compared to 28 percent of the general population

Other studies show that foster youth also have disproportionately high rates of early pregnancy, sexual and physical victimization, mental illness and substance abuse.

National studies show 70 percent of foster youth wants to go to college. In Ohio, a recent report found that the overwhelming majority of foster youth, upon discharge, said they would complete their high school education and go to college. But for most, it will never happen. A Casey Foundation study estimates less than 13 percent will actually enroll in college; only 2-3 percent will obtain bachelor’s degrees.

While many foster parents open their homes and hearts to foster children, higher education is not frequently a topic of discussion. Typically other basic needs take precedence over education. The foster parents either have little experience with higher education or they have presumed that it is unaffordable. Either makes for an uncomfortable topic.

The Congressional Research Services reports that parents in the general population provide their children between the ages of 18 and 34 with a total of $38,000 for tuition, housing and other expenses. For most foster children, this type of financial assistance is nonexistent. Government financial aid is available, but may only cover a portion of tuition and room and board. Ohio’s Independent Living Legislative Workgroup estimated in a 2008 study that realistic out-of-pocket expenses for children enrolled in higher education from age 18-22 is about $5,743 a year. Foster youth have no one to turn to in a time of need. If they cannot afford to support themselves, they are unlikely candidates for educational success.

Accordingly, foster youth have little hope of going on to higher education — and their actions show it. In Hamilton County, less than one-third of eligible foster children graduate high school. Less than one out of five takes the ACT or completes a financial aid packet.