Bill would offer college path to homeless and youths in foster care

A new bill before the U.S. Congress seeks to give the country’s 1.3 million homeless students, and nearly 437,000 students in the foster care system, better access to college.

The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act (HEASHFY) was introduced by Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark and Washington Senator Patty Murray, both Democrats. Republican Senator Rob Portman, and Republican Representative Don Young co-signed the bill.

Clark, who represents the Commonwealth’s fifth district, introduced the bill in 2017.  It is an amendment to the Higher Education Act (HEA) that was signed into law on Nov. 8, 1965.  HEA oversaw the implementation of many loans, grants, and other programs to support middle and lower class people seeking higher education.

Since then, the process of applying to higher education and for financial assistance has only become more lengthy and elaborate.  

The process of applying is usually composed of an academic application, personal essays, financial aid applications, and FAFSA documentation at a minimum.  For homeless and foster care youth, this process is often solely placed on the individual with no outside support. If admission to college is possible, there are further fundamental obstacles to tackle such as housing, food, and textbooks.  

According to the National Center for Education Statistics study of 2015-2016, the average cost per year for a public four-year institution is $19,000, and for private; $40,000.  These numbers are higher than they have ever been in United States history.

The HEASHFY bill would mandate that colleges ameliorate their “outreach, resources, and policies for homeless and foster youth, including streamlining the process of applying for and receiving financial aid, helping students access housing options between terms, and designating liaisons to help students access valuable support services. This would include making college more financially accessible to homeless and foster youth.

the Bill would terminate the requirement that unaccompanied homeless youth “must have their status re-determined every year unless conflicting information exists.”  In addition, it would offer this population in-state tuition rates and clarify that the services and support that foster care youth receive do not count as income when determining the financial aid need of a student.  

The act would also create a plan to support homeless and foster youth in obtaining housing resources on campus during breaks in the school year. In addition, it would put implement greater efforts to identify and recruit homeless youth, who are so often overlooked in the crucial and early steps of the application process.  

A proven gateway out of homelessness and unsafe, unstable living conditions, is a college education.  A Georgetown University study recently showed that college graduates, on average, will earn $1 million more in income over their lives than non college graduates.  

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