Home » Resources »

Every Transition Counts

School Stability and Educational Attainment of Youth Formerly in Foster Care

College students gather around a laptop on a desk and laugh.

Project Summary

The Colorado Lab partnered with University of Northern Colorado to extend a longitudinal study of educational outcomes for youth in foster care to include postsecondary participation.  Previous research showed that one in four students, who experience foster care during high school graduated with their class. In this study, we learned only 13 percent of youth who were in foster care at age 13 or older entered postsecondary education in Colorado by age 21. This report informed SB22-008 Higher Education Support for Foster Youth, which requires all public high education institutions in Colorado to provide financial assistance for the total cost of attendance for students that had been in foster care on or after age 13. The bill also required the designation of foster care student navigators and liaisons to support youth formerly as they explore postsecondary opportunities and matriculate into them. 

Steps to Building Evidence

This project generated the first-ever baseline data on Colorado’s youth in foster care’s participation in postsecondary education, with the goal of informing policy design (Step 1 on the Steps to Building Evidence) and laying the groundwork for monitoring progress (Step 3).

Summary of Findings

  • Every time students change school during high school the odds of them graduating drops. 
  • When students enter high school behind in academic progress and do not catch up to grade level standards by the end of 9th grade, their odds of going to college drop. 
  •  For each additional school change during high school, the odds of ever enrolling in postsecondary education is expected to decrease by 12%. 
  • In interviews, youth described how their ability to learn and retain academic information was compromised when survival needs were more pressing.


This study builds upon prior policy work to improve educational stability for youth in foster care and practice innovations to support students progress toward earning a high school credential (Fostering Opportunities Program). This study informed recommendations made by the HB18-1319 Services Successful Adulthood Former Foster Youth task force and ultimately SB22-008 Higher Education Support for Foster Youth. Now Colorado youth who experienced foster care have a pathway to pursue postsecondary education in Colorado without accumulating large student loan debts. 

Get Involved

For more information about working with the Colorado Lab, see Government and Community Partnerships or Research Partnerships.