In September 2018, the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) launched its system-wide Foster Youth Success Initiative when the Board of Regents approved the Foster Youth Fee Waiver—permitting all NSHE institutions to waive the course enrollment (tuition) fees for their eligible students (each institution covers the cost of the fee waiver for its own students). Shortly thereafter, NSHE received a $200,000 one-year grant from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, to assist with implementing and coordinating the initiative across its seven degree-granting institutions.
The primary mission of the Foster Youth Success Initiative is to more effectively recruit, support, and retain students who have been dependents of the child welfare system; and, the course enrollment fee waiver is one key component in achieving that goal. However, we know that providing college funding for foster youth is just one crucial part of clearing the way for their successful transition to and persistence in a postsecondary education program.
To that end, NSHE hired Laura Obrist—in July 2019—to serve as its Foster Youth Ambassador. Laura is dedicated to achieving the initiative’s mission, by assisting Nevada’s two- and four-year public colleges/universities with implementing processes and designing/coordinating campus-based support services to aid foster care alumni with enrolling and succeeding in college. She serves as the primary point of contact for, and liaison between, all of the NSHE institutions and community providers—working in collaboration with NSHE system- and institution-level employees, current and former foster youth leaders/students, child welfare agencies, K-12 educators and administrators, legal services providers, court representatives, and other community stakeholders who are well-versed in the unique challenges and needs of this under served student population. Laura facilitates a statewide learning community, composed of NSHE and community partners, which is committed to building a comprehensive, sustainable, and permanent education support system for foster care alumni residing in Nevada—from secondary education completion, to postsecondary education attainment, to a career path. She is leading the development of effective postsecondary education preparation, access, transition, and success strategies that are formulated to assist people with limited support systems. Laura is also working to increase financial aid access and utilization for all NSHE students who have been in foster care—particularly in the form of the Foster Youth Fee Waiver (for eligible current and former dependents of the Nevada foster care system), state and federal grants, and/or scholarships.
In establishing best practices and strengthening resources/services that are tailored to current and former foster youth, NSHE seeks to expand foster youth-serving systems’ capacity to support college-planning activities, improve its own ability to effectively serve students who have been in foster care, and achieve the statewide community’s desire to build stronger career pathways for foster youth.