Sonoma County Office of Education

Sonoma County Wins California Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge

04/12/2018 -

Debra Sanders of SCOE accepts Foster Youth Challenge awardMore Sonoma County foster youth who are seniors in high school are likely headed to college, thanks to a winning effort by the Sonoma County Office of Education to help them apply for student financial aid.

Sonoma County won the small county category of the California Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge, a statewide effort to improve access to college for foster youth by helping them fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) received a $500 award today at the Foster Youth Education Summit from John Burton Advocates for Youth for its success, and said the money will be used to strengthen support and outreach efforts.

Eighty-five percent of the county’s high school seniors in foster care completed the application. Each of the foster youth from Sonoma county who completed the FAFSA will be entered into a drawing for a $500 scholarship to be awarded in May.

“Foster youth almost always qualify for state and federal financial aid for college, but millions of dollars are left behind each year,” said Dr. Steven Herrington, Sonoma County superintendent of schools. “The FAFSA Challenge provided a great platform to reach these students and encourage them to take the life-changing step of applying for financial aid. Our staff did a great job and we’re thrilled to be honored for their success.”

This is the inaugural year for the FAFSA Challenge, which is led by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization founded by retired state Senator John Burton. The FAFSA Challenge is the first coordinated effort in California specifically designed to reach foster youth and help them apply for student aid.

“Sonoma residents should be proud of the work their county has done to open the doors of higher education to the most vulnerable to make their college dreams come true,” Burton said. “The percentage of high school senior foster youth in Sonoma County who submitted the FAFSA this year is likely double the percentage of applications completed by foster youth statewide in past years, which shows how dedicated its staff is to making a difference.”

JBAY Project Director Debbie Raucher said foster youth have historically submitted the FAFSA at a significantly lower rate than that of the general student population. About 60 percent of non-foster youth in California complete the FAFSA annually, but difficulties in identifying and reaching foster youth through traditional campaigns have kept them from applying for financial aid. She added that JBAY is also sponsoring legislation, SB 940, that would alter deadlines to make California’s financial aid program, Cal Grant, more accessible to foster youth.

“Completing the FAFSA and qualifying for student aid will have a huge impact on the lives of each one of these students and the community as a whole,” said Yali Lincroft of the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, which helped fund the FAFSA Challenge in Sonoma County. “Going to college can help these kids avoid poverty, homelessness and open the door to a rewarding career and happier life.” The effort also received funding from the Stuart Foundation and Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

The winners, which included Yuba in the very small county category, Fresno in the medium-sized county category and San Diego for large counties, were announced at the Foster Youth Education Summit in Pomona today.Counties were placed in categories based on the number of foster youth in the county who are high school seniors.