COLUMBUS – It’s getting close to back-to-school time, and one group of college-bound Ohioans is getting a little extra help making higher education a reality.
The Ohio Reach program is connecting former foster youth to financial aid, housing, mentoring and other supports in their college journey. Kimberly Rhyan is a campus liaison for the program at Columbus State Community College, and as a former foster youth she understands the challenges these students face.
“Most 18- to 21-year-olds who are in college always know there is a place called home,” she said, “and I think for foster youth they’re put into a group and they’re kind of forgotten about and people don’t realize that they need those extra supports.”
An estimated 3,000 former foster youths between 18 and 21 live in Ohio. Ohio Reach program coordinator William Murray said many of them have limited means and opportunities.
“Only 9 percent will receive their bachelor degree by the age of 26,” he said. “That’s a very dismal rate, and so one of the things that we can definitely take from this is to have people who want to get involved to start – not necessarily when they get to college but even beforehand – to prepare them for the tools that they’ll need to succeed.”
At Columbus State, the program helped develop a scholar network, which provides ongoing pre-college workshops. Rhyan said it helps students get a fresh start.
“As soon as they identify as a former foster youth, there might be a stigma attached,” she said, “and so really what we’re hoping to accomplish through the Scholar Network is to create a safe community where they can come together and lean on one another and realize that they’re not here alone.”
Ohio Reach recently awarded $60,000 to four colleges to provide mentoring for foster-care alumni this fall: Central State and Ohio universities and Columbus State and Cuyahoga community colleges. The mentoring programs will support educational retention and graduation.
The legislation, H.B. 50, is online at legislature.ohio.gov.