Fostering an Atmosphere for Success

Students from foster care find a home at St. Lawrence


Emery Younger ’17

Growing up in the South Bronx, Janelle Lawrence ’18 knew she wanted to go to college. “I always saw school as a way to make my life better,” she says, “or even as an escape from what I was going through.” 

However, as a student who was in and out of the foster care system beginning in middle school, the odds were stacked against her. “Going into foster care, I carried my dedication to school with me,” says Janelle. “I never wanted my caseworkers to schedule court dates or meeting when I knew I had school.” 

This fall, Janelle will be entering her senior year at St. Lawrence, majoring in art and art history. The Fostering Youth Success Alliance estimates that out of New York State’s 4,000 college-aged foster youth, only between 3 and 10 percent will get a college degree. “A lot of youth in foster care don’t have the support from their high school to even think about going to college,” Janelle explains. 

Despite these discouraging statistics, St. Lawrence has been recognized as a leader in New York State for enrolling the highest number of students from foster families in 2016 of any private college in New York State. Out of the 68 students enrolled at New York private colleges, 10 attend St. Lawrence.  

Last fall, Janelle and Jabari Bowen ’18 were invited to Albany to meet with state legislators to discuss how the state can best support its students in the foster care system. Their advocacy helped to preserve the Fostering College Youth Success Initiative (FCYSI), a $3 million New York State program that assists foster students in affording expenses related to their college education including textbooks and housing during breaks. 

“When you don’t have that constant parent who’s there and grounded, even something as simple as transportation to and from school can be challenging,” says Janelle. “I didn’t have all the answers about the foster care system, but it was good to bring awareness to the importance of education,” she adds.

At private colleges, foster-care students are given financial and academic support through the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), a New York State Education Department program designed to support disadvantaged students from low-income families.

“If you’re in foster care, you’re automatically incorporated into HEOP,” explains Bill Short, director of HEOP at St. Lawrence and administrator for FCYSI. “This initiative has allowed us to look more intentionally for students coming out of the foster care system.”

As part of the HEOP program, these students attend a five-week session during the summer before they begin their first year, which acclimates them to the campus and college experience. “It really gets you in the mindset of college and those 15 to 20 other students become your family and home base at school,” says Janelle. 

HEOP also provides academic support throughout the year, which allows St. Lawrence’s students from the foster care system to have success rates that is on par with the rest of the student body. “We’ve had a very good track record and these foster care students graduate,” notes Short. In recent years, he estimates that St. Lawrence’s fostered population has had a graduation rate of 95 percent.

“Sometimes in higher education, we talk about the value-added of an education,” says Short, who asks, “whose life is going to be more transformed than a student from the foster care system?” n


Learn more about HEOP and St. Lawrence at www.stlawu.edu/heop.