DFPS and the Texas A&M University System announced a new pilot program focused on supporting and improving higher education success for young adults in extended foster care at a press conference in Corpus Christi on June 21. It’s the first such partnership between DFPS and a university system.

Through this unique pilot program, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M University-Kingsville will administer Supervised Independent Living (SIL) services for eligible students who were in foster care and opted to stay or return to Extended Foster Care. SIL is a voluntary extended foster care program that provides financial and other supports to young adults up to age 21 as they transition to independent living. The SIL program at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will be called Island Harbor.

Cover of Annual Report and Data BookDFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman

Cover of Annual Report and Data BookTexas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp

Cover of Annual Report and Data BookTexas A&M Corpus Christi President Kelly Quintanilla

Cover of Annual Report and Data BookTexas A&M-Kingsville President Dr. Steve Tallant

“It is with great pride that the Texas A&M University System is taking the lead in helping these deserving students as they work toward a brighter future,” said Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp. “We thank DFPS for working with us on this important initiative, and we look forward to eventually implementing it throughout the system.”

“More than anything, today is about making real the hopes and dreams of our young people who have been in foster care” said DFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman. “Through this innovative program, the Texas A&M System is helping pave the way so that these very special students can begin to realize their potential.”

Since it was established in 2013, SIL has enabled participants to receive services while attending college. However, this is the first time a public university system has coordinated directly with DFPS and enabled universities to handle the administration of the program for their students. These students are already eligible for tuition and fee waivers at public universities in Texas, but SIL gives them more support to reduce the financial burdens and uncertainty of living independently for the first time.

“Finding ways to remove barriers to our students’ success is so important, and this pilot program allows us to provide an excellent education in a very supportive environment,” said A&M-Corpus Christi President Kelly Quintanilla. “It allows us to provide a home for these students while also covering the cost of housing, meals, and other living expenses that might otherwise keep them from pursuing a degree. We are excited to be a part of it and of their future.”

Studies show 80 percent of children in foster care say they want to go to college, but only two to three percent actually attain a bachelor’s degree. In Texas, the percentage of degree-earners is even lower.

Aspen Stinson is a junior history major at the Island University who spent time in foster care. Stinson is also earning a teaching certificate and minoring in social work. “It’s hard to focus on class when you’re worrying where your next meal is coming from or where you’re going to sleep,” said Stinson. “And sometimes that place to sleep is your car. I’m proud to be breaking the cycle and to fulfill the dreams of my biological mother, who never had this opportunity.”

Tymothy Belseth, an advocate for foster care youth and a research coordinator with the Texas Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing at the University of Texas at Austin, also expressed support for the program. Belseth experienced the state’s foster care system firsthand as a teenager before going on to earn a bachelor’s degree from A&M-Kingsville and a master’s degree in political science from Texas State University.

“The new SIL program in the Texas A&M System will improve educational outcomes for youth in foster care,” Belseth said. “Foster youth who feel welcome on campus, have a supportive network and resources available to them will be more likely to graduate from college and have better upward mobility. I am honored to work with DFPS and my alma mater on this effort.”

The new SIL program will officially become available for extended foster care students on the A&M-Corpus Christi and A&M-Kingsville campuses starting in fall 2018.

- additional information and photos provided by Texas A&M University Corpus Christi