College Readiness Program - Helping Foster Youth Prepare to Succeed in College and in Life

UFC's College Readiness Program supports foster children from grades 7-12 so they graduate from high school and move on to college careers.


Please describe yourself.

Solo actor (just us on this project!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

UFC's College Readiness Program supports foster children from grades 7-12 so they graduate from high school and move on to college careers.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a population of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

Central LA

East LA

South LA

What is your idea/project in more detail?

The College Readiness program supports students over a six-year period, from seventh through 12th grades. Through one-on-one support and a variety of workshops and other activities, participation in the program helps students to complete their high-school degree,graduate four year college eligible, and apply to college.

Among students who will have been involved in the Readiness program for four years or more, we project that 100% will earn a high school diploma and 85% go on to attend a four year university (50%) or community college (35%). By helping them to attain a degree, we can set the youth we serve on a path to lifelong success.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Central to UFC’s approach is providing the foster youth in our programs with long-term relationships with UFC staff members, who serve as the source of consistent support that many foster youth lack in their lives. Counselors act as mentors and advisors to each student, and also encourage the youth to advocate for themselves. This support extends to caregivers as well, who benefit from workshops and activities focused on creating a college-bound atmosphere in their home.

Counselors follow participants through whatever home and school placement changes they may experience. As the average California foster youth experiences at least three placement changes during their time in foster care, this component is key to their success. Program activities include:

Academic Preparation

Students attend monthly weekend workshops that provide the essential information to create a clear path to college. Counselors work with students to help them set academic and personal goals and create an academic plan to meet those goals. Students are provided with supplemental services that may include tutoring, SAT preparation, and referrals to other services.

Educational Advocacy

Counselors work with youth to provide educational advocacy in areas surrounding IEPs, TILPs and TDMs in addition to coordinating access to support services with CSWs.

Workshops & College Tours

Through workshops and tours of local college campuses, students explore college and career options, develop cultural awareness and enhance their academic skills. In addition, monthly workshops support eligible seniors in the program as they apply to colleges, and to assist them in making application for financial aid.

Enrichment Activities

A host of summer programs and unique activities are offered to the youth to support their personal development and expose them to career opportunities.

For the coming year, CRP has begun creating and implementing two new initiatives: an Alternate Track for to prepare non-four-year college bound students for success through a year-long workshop series, college visits and specialized services; and a six-month extension of services for all CRP graduates - including access to the usual services e.g. tutoring, as well as one-on-one support in the preparation of personal transition plans.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

Almost one seventh of the 400,000 children in foster care in the US reside in the state of California, and one third of those are in Los Angeles County (AFCARS and CCWIP, 2012). Over 8,000 of the 18,700 children in care in Los Angeles County are between the ages of 11 and 21 (CCWIP, 2012), and it is these children and youth whose futures UFC seeks to improve through its programs. Compared with their peers in the general population, foster youth experience poor outcomes in a number of areas of their life. When foster youth leave care, they are on their own with little to no support system to help them navigate the difficult path to adulthood. The informal safety net built by familial bonds that so many of us take for granted does not exist for many former foster youth. There is no grace period and no safe place to return when things do not go as planned. As a result, foster youth are perhaps one of the most vulnerable populations in our communities. The statistics, especially those related to educational attainment, show that the majority of Los Angeles County foster youth exiting care will not become successfully independent as adults:

• Only about one half of students in foster care pass California’s high school exit exam in grade 10, compared to 76% of all 10th graders

• High school students in foster care in California have the highest dropout rate at 8%, compared to 3 to 5% for other at-risk student subgroups

• The high school graduation rate for students in foster care in California is lower, at 58%, than other at-risk student subgroups, whose rates range from 60 to 79%

• In Los Angeles, less than half of foster youth enroll in community college, and in one study, only 2% of these received Associate’s degrees and 2% met criteria for transfer to a four-year program in the University of California or California State University systems

The perpetuation of these poor educational outcomes for foster youth results in (1) the personal potential of thousands of individuals going unrealized; (2) great stores of energy, experience, and talent that could benefit our communities, going untapped; and (3) many of these individuals using disproportionate amounts of public services, either through welfare assistance or incarceration. UFC’s model interventions have proven that a relatively small, well-timed investment in foster youth can unlock the potential of this vulnerable population to become an invaluable asset to our communities.

Whom will your project benefit?

UFC's programs serve foster youth throughout Los Angeles County. We currently serve approximately 1,300 foster children and youth annually, including 500 individuals in the Readiness program. The CRP is open to any student in Los Angeles County foster care interested in taking advantage of the services UFC has to offer and is not enrolled in a Special Day Class. New students are recruited in grades seven through nine to ensure the possibility of at least four years of participation. Students are referred by DCFS social workers, advocates, partner schools, or siblings of CRP students.

Of CRP program participants:

• 58% are female and 42% are male;

• 44% are African American, 42% Hispanic, 2% Caucasian, 1% Asian, 2% Bi Racial, and 9% Other/NA; and

• 61% are in high school and 39% are in middle school.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

One of UFC’s greatest strengths is our partnerships and service linkage with other organizations. Due to the frequency and intimacy of our contact with youth we serve and when applicable, their caregivers, UFC is in a unique position to assess the particular gaps in services and/or needs of individual foster youth. The College Readiness program works with many partners, including the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), UCLA Connecting Communities, Coalition for Engaged Education’s Forward Program, CASA, iFoster, LACOE Foster Youth Services, Public Counsel, Green Dot, SoCalCAN, Education Coordinating Council, Court Scholars, L.A. Compact, Children’s Law Center, Success in Degrees, Camp Felix, First Star UCLA Bruin Guardian Academy, Alliance for Children’s Rights, and numerous Foster Family Agencies and Group Homes.

How will your project impact the LA2050 LEARN metrics?

Youth unemployment and underemployment

District-wide graduation rates

HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math

Academic Performance Index scores

College matriculation rates

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

The principal goals of the program are to improve high school graduation rates among foster youth (from an average of less than 50% within their peer group to a goal of 100% of four-year program participants) and four-year college enrollment (from less than 15% among their peers to more than 50% of program participants). The other goals identified above are inevitable outcomes of participation, whether they be measures of student performance during their High School years, or long-term chances of achieving employment after.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

The goal of the CRP is to help foster youth graduate from high school four-year college eligible. UFC’s Education programs have clear quantitative goals, against which progress is continually measured. Target outcomes for the College Readiness Program include the following:

• 95% will earn a high school diploma

• 85% will go to college

- 50% will matriculate directly to a four-year college

- 35% will attend community college

UFC has also identified the following major milestones that indicate progress toward the goal of graduating ready to succeed at a four-year college: (1) students are maintaining stability in their foster care and school placements; (2) students are completing their A-G courses; (3) students are participating consistently in the program and seeking Counselor input; (4) students pass the CAHSEE; (5) students are graduating from high school; (6) students apply to a variety of colleges; (7) students are accepted to a four-year university or college. UFC College Counselors use our Social Solutions Effort to Outcomes (ETO) database to record all programmatic information, including progress on milestones.

In addition to educational attainment, UFC seeks to improve participants’ overall social and emotional well-being. For all of UFC’s programs, we have identified three critical areas of emotional stability that we want to improve in the youth we serve: resilience, self-esteem, and depression. We will measure changes in these domains using validated and reliable psychometric assessments. Specifically, we will use the 10-item Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale to measure increases in resilience; the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale to measure increases in self-esteem; and the Patient Health Questionnaire to measure decreases in depression. We will administer these assessments at program intake and then on an annual basis thereafter until program exit to measure change over time. Because the indicator of emotional stability is a new area of measurement for UFC, we have not yet established a target of the number and percentage of youth with improved emotional stability. However, once we capture baseline information and/or have at least one year of data, we will likely set and adjust targets accordingly. We hope to begin implementing the emotional stability assessments, at least as a pilot, during the 2014-15 academic year.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

The most important lesson that UFC has learned over more than 30 years service to foster youth in our community is that stable, consistent, long-term relationships are key to successful outcomes.

The second, which forms the basis of our approach, is that four-year college attendance and achievement of the bachelor's degree are uniquely effective in assuring foster youth emerge as successful, independent adults.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

UFC's College Readiness program has been in operation since 2003, and has experienced steady growth and consistently successful outcomes since that time. It is based on this history that we are confident in the program's continuing operation and success in the coming year.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Certainly we hope that no significant barriers to successful implementation will arise, while we prepare for any number of potential problems. In early 2014, for example, we noted that new student enrollment in the program was not at a pace to allow us to reach our goal for number of students served. We addressed the issue by increasing our outreach efforts, simplifying the application process, and other measures that resulted in significantly improved recruitment numbers in the second half of the 2013-2014 year, allowing us to reach our target service numbers. Always, we like all nonprofit organizations face resource challenges which, as noted below, we are addressing by intensifying our search for new sources of funding and by diversifying our fundraising initiatives.

Finally, during the past year we have been working to refine the range of data we collect on program participants and their outcomes. This effort will allow us to better identify barriers to student success and implement program modifications that target those areas.