In a 2010 study by researchers at the University of Chicago, only 6 percent of former foster youths had earned a two- or four-year degree by age 24. Those not in college may be in jail; 34 percent who had left foster care at age 17 or 18 reported being arrested by age 19.
Most of the research is bleak — but not all. It appears that extra support can make a difference. The Chicago study tracked the lives of about 700 foster children in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. Those in Illinois who were still getting foster care services at age 19 were less likely to have been arrested (22 percent versus 34 percent) than those in the other two states who were on their own. The same was true for education. The foster children from Illinois, which has long allowed young people to remain in care until their 21st birthday, were more likely to have completed at least one year of college than their counterparts from Iowa or Wisconsin, where the age of emancipation at the time was 18.
Which is why a growing number of colleges — from those that are selective, like U.C.L.A., to those that are not, like Los Angeles City College — have created extensive support programs aimed at current and former foster young people. At U.C.L.A., this includes scholarships, year-round housing in the dorms for those who have no other place to live, academic and therapeutic counseling, tutoring, health care coverage, campus jobs, bedding, towels, cleaning products, toiletries and even occasional treats. Ms. Boccara mentioned the gift cards she was given to a local supermarket. At Los Angeles City College, Marcellia Goodrich likes the free snacks in the program office and Mr. Roque noted the free paper. “It’s useful and helps you stay on budget,” he said.