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New program helps foster youth achieve college education

February 11, 2015

The Arizona foster care tuition waiver, a bill signed into law by former Gov. Jan Brewer in 2013, helps Arizona’s foster youth earn a college degree by offering free tuition. But getting students into college is just part of the goal. The current national graduation rate for foster youth falls below 5 percent.

A grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust will launch a new program that aims to increase the success rate for foster youth in Arizona.

Bridging Success, piloted by the Arizona State University College of Public Service and Community Solutions, is designed to connect current and prospective students with resources so that foster care youth can both pursue and finish their college education.

Cynthia Lietz, associate dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions and principal investigator on the grant notes that while the program is administered through the college, it supports former foster youth in all programs at ASU. Lietz says that the program fits with the college’s model of collaboration to solve community challenges.

“Increasing graduation rates is a challenge that we can solve by putting the right support systems in place,” says Lietz. “We are not only providing these talented young people the chance to pursue an education, but the opportunity to reach for larger goals.”

“When I had the opportunity to come to ASU, I didn’t know what to do,” says Raymundo Cruz, an undergraduate student in the W. P. Carey School of Business and a Nina Scholar. “It can be overwhelming, and a resource like this helps put you in the right direction.”

The Bridging Success program will reach out to community members and organizations to raise awareness about the tuition waiver and support services available at ASU for former foster care youth. Working closely with ASU’s University Academic Success Programs, ASU admissions, financial aid and scholarships, housing and counseling services, the program will provide a network of services available to former foster care youth, and help staff and faculty understand the needs of youth who have been in foster care. Information and guidance will also be available to assist in streamlining the application process and ease the transition into the ASU community.

“I am so excited to see this take off,” says Cruz. “Once you are here, you realize that you can do whatever you want to do with your career.”

“The partnerships we are developing with units across ASU are a critical component of the Bridging Success program. By working together, we can reduce the barriers that can challenge youth who wish to pursue an ASU degree and get them connected to resources that will support them – from the first day of classes to graduation day. Bridging Success provides an opportunity for all of us to demonstrate that we are fully committed to improving the success outcomes for youth who have been in foster care,” says Jeanne Hanrahan, liaison, University Academic Success Programs Administration.

In an effort to increase retention rates for foster youth alumni enrolled at ASU, the program will provide ongoing support from a program coordinator and several master’s-level interns from the School of Social Work. Educational workshops and social events will be hosted throughout the semester, as well as a graduation celebration ceremony at the end of the semester.

Program staff will work closely with Bridging Success at Maricopa Community Colleges, a parallel program also funded by the Pulliam Charitable Trust, to increase recruitment efforts, assist students interested in transferring to ASU and work collaboratively with a joint community advisory council.

The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust was established after the 1997 death of Nina Mason Pulliam to support the causes she loved in her home states of Arizona and Indiana. For more information, visit the trust’s website at