Each year, approximately 20,000 young adults in foster care transition to adulthood and independent living. A majority of these young people want to pursue postsecondary education, but they are less likely to enroll in postsecondary institutions than their peers who have not interacted with the child welfare system. Federal and state governments are implementing programs to address barriers and provide supports for pursing a college degree. In 2001, as an amendment to the Chafee Foster Care Independence Act, the Education and Training Voucher (ETV) program became the first federal program to assist young adults in or formerly in foster care with their postsecondary education needs. Preliminary evidence suggests ETV may increase persistence, but more research is needed to understand its impact on outcomes such as college enrollment, persistence, and attainment.
This report describes how ETV programs operate, who receives ETV vouchers, how and when vouchers are used, and the educational outcomes for young adults who receive ETVs compared with their peers who do not receive ETVs.
Key Findings and Highlights
There is wide variation in how the ETV program is implemented across states including eligibility, application process, funding dispersal, and renewal processes.
Many young adults eligible for ETVs do not receive them. We found that relatively few young adults (37 percent) who were ETV-eligible and enrolled in college were awarded or used the voucher. We saw differences in the characteristics of young adults who receive ETVs and other eligible young adults who do not enroll in college or enroll in college without an ETV. Females, Black young adults, and those who were in care at ages 17 and 18 and/or emancipated were more likely to enroll in college and enroll with an ETV. Involvement with child welfare around age 18 was the greatest predictor of ETV use. Young adults still involved with child welfare at the time of college enrollment may be more likely to hear about and use an ETV than those who exited care before college enrollment.
We examined when and where young people use ETVs. Compared with eligible young adults who enrolled in college without ETVs, young adults who received ETVs were more likely to enroll full time, more likely to enroll in four-year schools, and less likely to enroll in for-profit colleges.
Lastly, receiving an ETV is correlated with better educational outcomes for young adults. However, even for young adults who do receive an ETV, graduation rates are still well below the national average. Among those who first enrolled in college by age 21 without an ETV, only 9 percent had graduated by age 24. However, young adults who received an ETV had much higher graduation rates at 17 percent overall.
The results in this report cannot be interpreted as estimates of the impact of ETVs on persistence because we cannot control for selection into the ETV program. Further work implementing a rigorous evaluation of the ETV program is needed to estimate the impact of ETVs on college enrollment, persistence, and attainment.
Our analysis linked multiple administrative data sources to evaluate ETV program participation and educational outcomes. We matched child welfare administrative data on the foster care histories of all young adults who could be eligible for ETV from 10 states (California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee) with ETV program data and National Student Clearinghouse data on college enrollment and attainment. We examine who used ETVs, what predicts ETV utilization, and how ETVs are used. We also investigate whether receiving an ETV is correlated with a young person’s likelihood of persisting in or graduating from a postsecondary education. In addition to analyzing data, we also conducted interviews with ETV program coordinators in each of the 10 states to understand how their program is implemented and the differences across programs.
This work helped shed light on the ETV program and raises considerations for researchers and policymakers as well as states. Key considerations include the following:
- For future research: A rigorous evaluation of the ETV program is needed to estimate the impact of ETVs on college enrollment, persistence, and attainment. In addition, a study identifying best practices in ETV program implementation would help states make informed decisions about implementation.
- For policymakers: One potential reason for low ETV use or awards is that states may be underfunded to provide ETV to all eligible young adults. Many states could use additional funds to serve all young adults with the maximum amount of funding. Another potential reason for low ETV use or awards is that states may not engage in enough outreach. Further, if outreach and ETV use were increased, the need would be even greater.
- For states: Barriers in the ETV application process may also contribute to low program participation levels. States could reduce the burden of the application process on young adults by reducing the length of the application or using administrative data matches to verify eligibility instead of requiring documentation.
- Appendix: Additional Tables (see the full report)