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New ASU online course designed to help youth in foster care pursue higher education

Posted at 5:19 PM, Oct 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-03 20:19:11-04

TEMPE, AZ — Some may qualify for free tuition at Arizona's public universities and community colleges but for many young people who spent time in foster care, life's challenges can get in the way of a degree. ASU is rolling out a new online tool, designed to change that.

Walking the halls of ASU did not always feel possible for sophomore Jesus Ledezma and senior Brittany Skaggs.

"I didn't really have any parental guidance to help me with college," said Ledezma.

Both spent time in foster care and say the path to higher education was complicated and full of road blocks.

"With all of those changes they're experiencing, sometimes there's changes in the supportive adults in their lives," said Kalah Villagrana, the EMPOWER project's co-investigator. "They may not have as many connections to adults that can help walk them through that process of applying to post-secondary education."

"It's really easy to want to give up when your application is so difficult and you have to call admissions every five minutes because things are different for you and you don't know what to put," said Skaggs.

Research shows many former foster care youth do give up. Only 10 percent enter college and just four percent of those who enter, will graduate. That is compared to the overall graduation rate for students pursuing a bachelor's degree, which is 60 percent.

That is where the EMPOWER program from ASU comes in.

"Basically any adult who has a supportive relationship with a youth in care can participate in this program," said Jeanne Hanrahan, director of community outreach and university college at ASU.

The self-paced course, two years in the making, is free and easy to use.

It has six different modules touching on everything from trauma and the unique challenges those in foster care face, to college application help, scholarships and filing for financial aid through the FAFSA. More than 200 people enrolled in just the first couple of weeks.

"Just even showing me how to apply for FAFSA was better than a Google search," said Ledezma.

Ledezma and Skaggs say they are lucky they had supportive adults in their lives.

"My legal guardian was like, 'No, I'm going to call,' and he was kind of an advocate and did a lot of the hard work I needed to push to go to college," said Skaggs.

Now, they hope this new online course can help other adults do the same.

"It really just makes us look beyond our past, that we're more than our troubles," said Ledezma. "We're people with ambition and goals and we need help to achieve those goals."

There are several ways you can be that supportive adult. From fostering, to mentoring, even volunteering just a few hours of your time can make a big impact.

Click here for a link to the EMPOWER online course.

Below is a list of volunteer resources, courtesy of the EMPOWER course.

Foster/Resource Parent

Information on the steps to become a foster/resource parent in Arizona: CLICK HERE

List of foster parent licensing agencies in Arizona: CLICK HERE

Adoptive Parent

Information on the steps to become an adoptive parent in Arizona: CLICK HERE

Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)

CASA's are volunteers who are appointed by a judge to advocate for the needs of children in the child welfare system.
Information about becoming a CASA volunteer: CLICK HERE

List of CASA programs in each county in Arizona: CLICK HERE

Foster Care Review Board

The Foster Care Review Board advises the juvenile court on progress toward achieving a permanent home for children involved in a dependency action and in an out-of-home placement. There is at least one board in each county in Arizona. Information about joining a Foster Care Review Board: CLICK HERE


Many organizations in Arizona provide opportunities for community members to mentor children and youth in the foster care system. Requirements and expectations for mentoring vary by organization.
List of mentoring programs in Arizona (may not be inclusive of all mentoring programs): CLICK HERE

Surrogate Parent Program (Special Education)

A court appointed volunteer who represents a child in foster care in all matters related to special education. Information about becoming a Surrogate Parent: CLICK HERE

Arizona Department of Child Safety Volunteer Opportunities

DCS provides opportunities for community members to volunteer with the department.
List of volunteer opportunities and contact information: CLICK HERE

Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections Volunteer Opportunities
ADJC provides opportunities for community members to volunteer with the department. Here's a list of volunteer opportunities and contact information.