Foster children who graduate from high school and want to attend Grand Canyon University will be able to do so for free under a new program offered by the school, with the state helping foot the bill .
The program covers not only tuition and fees, but also room and board for foster children who, unlike other students, do not always have a home they can return to during holidays and summer breaks . Students in the program will graduate from the private Christian university without a student loan, which means that any money they earn through their guaranteed jobs on campus will be theirs for life after college.
Additionally, these students will have access to special counseling with the schools admissions office and student services, as well as life skills training and mentorship programs.
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At a press conference Thursday at the university to unveil the program, GCU President Brian Mueller spoke of prosperity and poverty as intergenerational.
“They will graduate in very, very important fields like nursing, education, engineering, computer science and information technology. They are going to make a major contribution to the state of Arizona’s economy. And they’re going to start families, and those families are going to flourish in a very intergenerational way,” Mueller said.
About 800 foster children come out of the system each year, about 44% of whom graduate from high school, Mueller said.
Between tuition, fees, meals, room and board, it costs about $27,610 to attend GCU each year, depending on the school. Homestay students are already eligible for federal programs that cover nearly $11,500. The university’s new Foster Futures Scholarship program will cover an additional $12,615, while the remaining $3,500 will be covered by the Arizona Department of Child Safety through its partnership with GCU.
Jacqueline Carter, a former foster child who graduated from GCU in 2020, provided a moving example of what this opportunity could mean for hundreds of people coming out of foster care.
When she arrived on campus, Carter’s adoptive mother dropped her off and left. It was a stark contrast to many other new students Carter had seen bidding tearful goodbyes to their proud mothers and fathers.
“It hurts, because I didn’t have that experience. So not having a normal college experience was a huge hurdle that I had to overcome,” she said.
Carter sometimes cried as she described coming into her own at GCU. She said she found her community at school, which became her home, especially during breaks, when she had nowhere else to go home.
“I celebrated Christmas here, Thanksgiving here with my friends. This campus is where I found God. And I know some people think that’s a little corny, but yeah, I found my purpose here,” she said.
Governor Doug Ducey said foster children face significant challenges that other people don’t have, and touted the new program as an opportunity not just for a degree, but for stability and a roof over their heads for four years. He noted that housing stability is one of the biggest challenges young people face when they come out of the foster care system. Ducey said Arizona has some of the best universities in the country, but for underrepresented and low-income students, attendance is out of reach due to cost.
“We want to make sure that these children have every opportunity once they reach adulthood. And Jackie, you’re just an outstanding example of what’s possible. I’m so proud of you and what you’ve accomplished. Your future is incredibly bright,” Ducey said. “And that’s what this scholarship is for. More Jackies. We need more Jackies.
To be eligible for the program, students must be Arizona residents who were in foster care from the age of 17, and they must either have an open file with the Department of Child Safety or be enrolled in other foster or follow-up programs. They must also achieve the 3.0 cumulative grade point average required of all students for admission.
There are already about 100 foster students attending GCU, according to university spokesman Bob Romantic. Many of these students are already obtaining other scholarships. Academic scholarships are available to any GCU student with a GPA of at least 3.0, which is the minimum needed to attend school, so every student there is eligible for a scholarship. Adoptive students are also eligible for Pell Grants and other federal funding.
The state has yet to set a price for its share of the program. The DCS estimates that up to 200 students could participate each year, which would represent a quarter of the homestay students who leave homestay each year, although principal Mike Faust called this a “very ambitious”.
“That’s what we would like to see. I don’t see it getting that big that fast. But, if we’re so lucky, right away. That would be great,” Faust told reporters after the press conference.
If 200 students used the scholarships each year, the cost to the agency would be around $700,000.