NANTICOKE — Thomas Leary said it’s become a personal quest.
“I have found out in the last few years the desperation many of these individuals are in when they exit foster care,” the president of Luzerne County Community College explained regarding his testimony Tuesday before the state House education committee. “They have nowhere to turn.”
Leary appeared before the committee in support of House Bill 1745, which would require community colleges and state-related colleges and universities to waive tuition and fees for undergraduate students who had been in foster care or other “substitute care” settings.
“Many times they are in desperate situations,” Leary said of children exiting foster care. “Across the nation, only about 10 percent go to college.”
Those people often have no family to support hopes of expanding their education, Leary said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
LCCC has been working toward serving more of those students, Leary added, since advocates approached him a few years ago and explained the problem. The college has about 58 students this year who were in foster care, “compared to about two just two years ago.”
Along with mandating the waivers for community colleges, the bill would require waivers from Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, Lincoln University, The Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology and “any other institution designated as state-related by the commonwealth.”
The waivers would be available to those ages 16 to 23 who had been in substitute care “for no less than 30 days before, on or after the effective date” of the bill.
The bill also has reporting requirements for the schools, and requires them to designate a “single point of contact for the student eligible for the program.”
The one thing the bill lacks is additional state money for colleges and universities to cover the costs of waivers and staff to fill the single-point-of-contact mandate.
Leary said even without the money, he and others support the bill. But he did urge the legislators to consider providing “at least some support.”
“We haven’t calculated specific costs,” Leary said, though there is a “rough estimate the bill would cost more than $1 million for all affected institutions statewide. “But I don’t think that’s a totally reliable figure. We don’t know the magnitude of this.”
“I hope they can find the funding so we can help these people,” he added. “It’s very difficult to sit and hear their stories.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish