State Lawmakers Approve $1 Million Grant to Help Foster Youth Receive College Education

State Lawmakers Approve $1 Million Grant to Help Foster Youth Receive College Education

Published Jun 23, 2022.

Virginia lawmakers registered a win recently for young adults hailing from the Commonwealth’s foster care system, by approving a two-year spending plan with a $1 million grant for Great Expectations—a program that helps youth who have experienced foster care gain access to higher education. With the help of the program, since 2008, over 3,500 young people who have experienced foster care have enrolled in college.

"Virginia’s foster youth will now face more opportunities than ever, as we catch them at this critical period in their lives, helping more students to build successful careers through higher education," says Jennifer Gentry, Ed.D., executive director and vice chancellor for institutional advancement at Virginia Foundation for Community College Education. "We are extremely grateful to Voices for Virginia’s Children for its strong advocacy, to Del. Brewer and Sen. Mason for their support, and to all of the members of the General Assembly and Governor Youngkin for their endorsement and final approval," Gentry says.

Developed by VFCCE, Great Expectations provides participating students with college coaches (mentors), along with financial assistance for housing, childcare and transportation, helping one of Virginia’s most vulnerable populations transition from foster care to successful independent living. Established in 2008, under the leadership of Glenn DuBois, outgoing chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, the program stems from a philanthropic challenge grant provided by the late Mark Fried and his wife, Barbara Fried, from Crozet, Va., and now serves as a national model for supporting students who have experienced foster care. Thanks to Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, and Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, Great Expectations will now receive $500,000 per fiscal year over the state’s two-year budget period beginning July 1, 2022.

At the urging of officials from Voices for Virginia’s Children, an independent, multi-issue child policy and advocacy organization, Brewer and Mason extended their long-standing support of Virginia’s adoption, child welfare, education and foster care systems, by introducing budget amendments supporting VFCCE’s program. The show of support comes three years after the two made history in 2019, co-chairing the state’s first-ever Foster Care Caucus.

"Over the last six years, I’ve had the honor of advocating in the halls of power alongside youth who have aged out of the foster care system. In every discussion, youth overwhelmingly say the Great Expectations program is the best thing that has helped them since aging out," says Allison Gilbreath, policy and programs director at Voices for Virginia’s Children. "Turning 18 years old makes us legal adults, but that doesn’t mean anyone has adulthood figured out yet. The Great Expectations program provides transition age youth from foster care with the life skills, lessons, and whatever resources they need while pursuing a college degree."

The graduation rate among Great Expectations students is three times the national average for those who have experienced foster care. Over 1,253 degrees, diplomas or certificates have been awarded to nearly a thousand students since the program’s inception.

"The program is successful because of how they show up for students and invest in their future," Gilbreath says. "Voices for Virginia’s Children is extremely proud to have played a role in securing funding for Great Expectations in the budget."

With line-item support from the state, VFCCE officials now look to extend the program’s support to more students, as it’s scheduled to reach all 23 of Virginia’s community colleges by fall 2022.

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