Scholarship Program to Support College Dreams of Mississippi Youth in Foster Care

Posted July 5, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young person standing outside with a red binder in one hand

Pay­ing for col­lege and secur­ing hous­ing just got eas­i­er for young Mis­sis­sip­pi­ans with fos­ter care experience.

Law­mak­ers have cre­at­ed a $1 mil­lion fund — called the State Rep. Bill Kinkade Fos­ter­ing Access and Inspir­ing True Hope (FAITH) Schol­ar­ship Pro­gram — to help cur­rent and for­mer fos­ter youth pay for col­lege tuition, fees, and room and board costs. The leg­is­la­tion also removes road­blocks for young peo­ple look­ing to rent an apart­ment after aging out of fos­ter care.

Named for its pri­ma­ry author, who lived in a group home as a child, the Kinkade FAITH law takes effect in July 2022 with sup­port for stu­dents slat­ed to begin in fall 2023.

Eas­ing the col­lege hous­ing challenge

Many stu­dents who exit fos­ter care are too young to sign rental leas­es and con­tracts and face hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty or even home­less­ness while in school. 

Mississippi’s legal age of major­i­ty is 21, but most of the state’s young peo­ple age out of fos­ter care at 18,” explains Saman­tha Kala­har, direc­tor of Mississippi’s First Place for Youth, which is one of the Casey Foun­da­tion’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive® sites. Absent cosign­ers or fam­i­ly to help with rental agree­ments, for­mer fos­ter care youth are vul­ner­a­ble to exploita­tion and liv­ing con­di­tions that dis­rupt learn­ing,” she says.

The new law offers two solutions:

  • Schol­ar­ships will cov­er on-cam­pus lodg­ing dur­ing school breaks and hol­i­days. This option would pre­vent stu­dents from scram­bling to find a safe, tem­po­rary place to live sev­er­al times a year.
  • Young peo­ple who were in fos­ter care may legal­ly sign rental and util­i­ty con­tracts before they turn age 21. Prop­er­ty own­ers will be able to ver­i­fy a renter’s eli­gi­bil­i­ty through the state’s Depart­ment of Child Pro­tec­tive Services.

These solu­tions pave the way for a lot more fos­ter kids to feel like they can actu­al­ly go to col­lege and com­plete it,” accord­ing to Scen­trel­lis Dixon, a Mis­sis­sip­pi Youth Voice board mem­ber and Jim Casey Fellow.

Young lead­ers from the Mis­sis­sip­pi Youth Voice board reflect­ed on their fos­ter care expe­ri­ence to advo­cate for hous­ing and finan­cial aid for their peers. By shar­ing their col­lege aspi­ra­tions and describ­ing hous­ing obsta­cles they faced, they won sup­port among high­er edu­ca­tion experts, child wel­fare offi­cials and state legislators.

Who’s eli­gi­ble?

The pro­gram is open to under­grad­u­ates at Mississippi’s pub­lic and pri­vate non­prof­it col­leges, includ­ing com­mu­ni­ty col­leges. Appli­cants may still be in fos­ter care or res­i­den­tial care, have been adopt­ed or reunit­ed with their fam­i­ly — or have already aged out of the sys­tem. In addi­tion, they must be younger than 25 and have been in the state’s care on or after their 13th birthday.

By mak­ing sat­is­fac­to­ry aca­d­e­m­ic progress, awardees will be eli­gi­ble to renew the schol­ar­ship for up to five years, as long as they begin the pro­gram before age 25. Par­tic­i­pants will also work with men­tors to nav­i­gate the rig­ors of col­lege life and inde­pen­dent living.

Read how Casey is sup­port­ing col­lege readi­ness for youth in fos­ter care

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