As community college educators, we pride ourselves on opening doors of opportunity to students who might never have thought a college education was possible. Our campuses in the San Diego Community College District offer programs and support to a wide variety of students, including students with disabilities, unsheltered students who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, students who have been involved with the justice system, and others who might need additional assistance to reach their educational and career goals.
One at-risk population that merits our deep attention is the young people who have recently transitioned from foster care. Through no fault of their own, these young people face massive challenges and obstacles to their success as adults. Without the support they may have had as children in foster care, they often confront issues with mental health, poverty and homelessness.
Studies show that 47% of youths who have just aged out of foster care are unemployed, and 33% are or have been homeless. About 80% of foster care children experience some type of mental health challenge.
That is why a priority of the San Diego Community College District is to better serve our transition-age foster youth. Our three for-credit colleges — San Diego City College, San Diego Mesa College, and San Diego Miramar College – all provide programs and counseling to support former foster youth and work with nonprofits such as San Diego-based Promises2Kids.
At San Diego College of Continuing Education, our non-credit institution, we established the Gateway to College and Career program to assist those age 16 to 24 — including former foster youth — who are disconnected from school and work. The Gateway program’s success lies in providing a compassionate educational community with support, wrap-around services, guided pathways to college and a career, and employment-driven learning opportunities.
Gateway to College and Career is modeled on a national network and is based at the Educational Cultural Complex in southeast San Diego. The facility includes offices, classrooms, a computer lab, pantry and diapers for the children of young parents.
Thanks to new federal and state funding, we are planning to serve more foster youth and expand the services being offered to the more than 1,500 former foster care youth who live in San Diego County.
The Gateway program is already benefitting from $1 million in funding from Congress, made at the recommendation of Rep. Scott Peters. In addition, this month the Gateway program will share a $1.4 million state award in partnership with Promises2Kids, an award made available by state Senate President Pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins.
The state funding will connect foster youth in Promises2Kids’s Guardian Scholars program directly with Continuing Education’s Gateway to College and Career and build a seamless system of support for former foster youth seeking education and careers, with plans that also include housing in the near future.
This latest funding will allow the college’s Gateway program to expand its holistic support to transition-age foster youth by collaborating with social service agencies in the region to reduce the barriers to economic advancement. We will continue to work with employers to offer apprenticeships that will lead to good-paying jobs. And the services will be centralized so the youths will not be required to go from one agency to the next to obtain what they need. Ninety transition-age foster youth will be served during the two-year term of the grant.
With these services, we envision creating empowered young adults who are able to imagine their possibilities for achieving stability in their lives and engaging in actions that create financial self-sufficiency and emotional, social and physical well-being. It is much more than an investment that will lead to stable future for our foster youth. This is an investment that will benefit our entire community. It is an investment in our future.
Just ask Darius Stokes, an alumnus of San Diego College of Continuing Education’s Clothing and Textiles program who now runs his own company, Dluxware.
“It was hard being in foster care,” said Stokes. “I was anti-social, had a challenging time learning with dyslexia and making friends. The reason I share this is because a lot of people have a lot of things going wrong in life, and it’s hard, but learning how to be in tune with yourself and love the life that you live helps you to grow.”
Tina M. King is president of San Diego College of Continuing Education. Gregory Smith is acting chancellor of the San Diego Community College District.