Thomas W. Durso
Cleveland State University

A college’s outreach to prospective students can seem generic. But special populations require special attention, which is why Cleveland State University’s Sullivan-Deckard Scholars Opportunity Program customizes information sessions and engaged learning experiences for high school students aging out of foster care.

“We have a lot of young people who certainly have the capacity to graduate, but not necessarily the motivation or the kind of support system that would keep them on that trajectory, ” says Charleyse Pratt, assistant vice president for inclusion and multicultural engagement at the Ohio university.

The Sullivan-Deckard program provides mentoring, financial guidance and other support services to encourage foster students to apply to Cleveland State.

Once admitted and enrolled, the students are housed for free and receive a laptop, work-study employment and money for tuition and books. They also get academic support and advising that includes professional mentoring and peer support.

Starfish by Hobsons retention software allows program officials to track academic progress and document advising sessions. Staff can also easily arrange students’ meetings with support services and faculty members.

The program extends to campus departments. Program officials have collaborated with the work study office, counseling center and career services to train staff members to work more effectively with foster children. They also collaborate with external social services agencies to support current scholars and prospective participants.

“You can’t just drop them in the deep end of the pool and expect everybody to swim,” Pratt says. “There are some nuances associated with this population that, if we are more keenly aware of, we can modify our intervention or our support.”

National trends link

  • Fewer than half the children who age out of foster care apply to college.
  • Of those students who do enroll, less than 10 percent earn degrees. Lack of appropriate guidance, financial resources and emotional support are cited as the primary roadblocks.