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Kellogg Foundation grants $500,000 to foster care efforts

June 4, 2009

KALAMAZOO--A five-year, $500,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will help boost the college success rate of former foster care youth who are enrolled in a groundbreaking program launched last fall at Western Michigan University.

The grant, announced at today's WMU Board of Trustees meeting, will support WMU's Foster Care Initiative in Higher Education/Seita Scholars Program, which is designed to combat historically low rates of college attendance and graduation rates among young people who have aged out of the foster care system. Such young people often have no family or support system to help them transition to college.

WMU's foster care initiative

The WMU program, which was originally conceived to serve about 15 to 20 students, began with seed money from the University in fall 2008 and attracted more than 50 students who qualified for admission. Designed as a model for other colleges and universities to emulate, the WMU program has become the nation's largest and most inclusive higher education outreach to former foster care youth.

"We are grateful for the Kellogg Foundation's support, which will allow us to continue our work and be even more effective as we bring this underserved population of young people into the University setting," says WMU President John M. Dunn. "As an institution, we've made a commitment to nurture these students, ensure they have the opportunity to realize their tremendous potential and allow our state and nation to benefit from their talents."

Grant to support student success

The Kellogg Foundation funding will allow the program to hire a full-time, dedicated program director for a five-year period. That person will assume responsibility for the initiative's most critical needs going forward, including:

  • Outreach and recruitment
  • Assisting students in the college entry process
  • Ensuring well-being and retention of admitted students
  • Assisting students as they succeed and transition to career placement

The Kellogg Foundation funding will also support, over five years, an ongoing assessment of the emotional and social progress and learning outcomes for students in the WMU initiative. The assessment program provides feedback to individual students and to the program's staff at regular points in students' academic careers--after the junior year, at graduation and after they launch a career and begin living independently as alumni. The data gathered will help students understand their strengths and deficits and will also give WMU staff a better idea of the special needs of former foster care youth, so they can set the direction and scope of support services.

WMU Seita Scholars

WMU's Foster Care Initiative in Higher Education/Seita Scholars Program offers qualified students full-tuition scholarships named for Dr. John Seita, a three-time WMU alumnus and a leading national advocate for foster care youth. The recipients, known as Seita Scholars, are required to live on campus. Because they often lack any location to call "home," the University has committed to making residence hall housing available year round, even during holiday and semester breaks. The program also involves a number of campus support services designed to provide a safety net as well as address the support needs and the lack of adult role models and mentors typically found among young people coming out of the foster care system.

While the target population and the problem addressed by the WMU program is national in scope, a majority of students who began their studies on campus last fall are from Michigan. During the 2008-09 academic year, Seita Scholars represented 14 Michigan counties, with the largest number coming to Kalamazoo from Kent and Wayne counties.

Model for nationwide change

Other universities around the state and nation have been closely watching the WMU program, which was launched in coordination with Michigan Campus Compact and Michigan Department of Human Services. In mid-May, a statewide conference brought representatives from 15 Michigan colleges and universities to WMU to meet and hear from successful Seita Scholars and to note the results of the program's first year as well as share in the lessons learned.

Nationally, about 20,000 young people age out of foster care each year. While about 70 percent of young people in foster care indicate that they want to go to college, only 20 percent of those who graduate from high school actually enroll in a higher education institution. Further, only 26 percent of those who enroll go on to earn a degree. About 500 Michigan young people age out of foster care each year. Until now, only about a dozen of that 500 would typically earn a degree.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was established in 1930. The organization supports children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society. Grants are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the southern African countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

For more information, visit the W.K. Kellogg Foundation online.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400