Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Janet Chang


The majority of youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood aspire to achieve a higher education, yet they often face barriers and lack a support system. In the United States, only 50% of foster youth graduate from high school. About 13% of foster youth enter college and only 3% graduate. The purpose of this study is to assess foster youths’ perceptions on the social worker’s role when pursuing higher education. The literature suggests that child welfare agencies have developed a variety of programs for foster youth and for their social workers aimed at improving foster youth’s educational outcomes. Yet, the gap between foster youth’s aspirations and achievements persists.

This study used a qualitative design as well as a purposive sampling method. We interviewed 15 foster youth, ages 18-25 from a foster youth program at a four-year university. We asked about their experiences in preparing and pursuing a higher education, particularly their perceptions of their social workers’ roles in these experiences.

Our findings suggest that social workers’ encouragement, communication about higher education information, and communication about financial aid are all important to foster youth. Our participants recommended a variety of suggestions around ways social workers could facilitate foster youth’s access to higher education. Participants shared a range of experiences with social workers related to encouragement and information about college; some received a great deal of information and support, while others did not. Participants recommended social workers provide a checklist to discuss the steps required to attend college, encouragement, information about college and financial aid, trainings for social workers to learn more about college resources and share with foster youth, more one-one time to discuss educational options, and social workers to discuss college with foster youth at an early age.

Our findings suggest encouragement and information about higher education and financial aid are highly important and youth do not receive these consistently from social workers. Understanding the role social workers played in the lives of foster youth can help provide more insight into what services can be enhanced or implemented to better prepare foster youth for higher education.

Included in

Social Work Commons