An innovative initiative at Cleveland State University is helping foster children in transitioning to independence while assisting this population in obtaining a college degree. The Sullivan/Deckard Opportunity Scholarship program guides youth who age out of the foster care system through the college application process, helps them transition to a university environment, and provides comprehensive mentoring and support services during their college tenure. The program also provides scholarships for tuition and year-round living expenses as well as funding for peer navigators, students who serve as mentors to assist with tutoring and socio/cultural support.
Foster children are one of the more at-risk populations in society and one of the least likely groups to earn a college degree. This initiative is one of the first of its kind to provide a holistic environment for foster children, including financial, educational and cultural support, to assist them in transitioning out of the system and into an institution of higher learning. CSU seeks to serve as a model for other universities and the nation as a whole in improving opportunities for these individuals.
“We are optimistic that the structure of this program and our institutional commitment to this population will continue to have a positive impact on current and future students,” says Charleyse S. Pratt, CSU’s assistant vice president for inclusion and multicultural engagement.
The inaugural cohort of students started in June 2015 and the program welcomed a second group in 2016. While there has been some attrition, 70 percent of students from the first cohort returned to the program for the second year.
Participants are required to participate in intensive summer transition workshops after each year of college, community outreach activities, work study and regular study sessions with peer navigators while also maintaining good academic standing.
CSU partners with a number of organizations to identify potential participants and provide academic support and community engagement opportunities. These institutions include Cuyahoga County Child and Family Services, the National Council of Jewish Women, University Hospitals and Fill This House, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting newly emancipated foster children.
The program was created thanks to a $2.3 million combined gift from Frank and Barbara Sullivan and Jenniffer and Daryl Deckard.
“Having opened our hearts and our home as foster parents, our family recognizes this great need in our community,” says Jenniffer Deckard. “We are eager to enhance the opportunities available to children who have been placed in foster care that come as a result of college completion. We feel privileged to partner with the Sullivan family and CSU in this holistic approach.”