First Advisor

Thomas Keller

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work and Social Research




Success -- Psychological aspects, Ex-foster children -- Education (Higher), College graduates -- Conduct of life, Educational attainment -- Social aspects



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 179 p.)


As a group, youth who have spent time in foster care are far behind the general population in postsecondary educational attainment. Nevertheless, most do hold aspirations for higher education. For those who make it to college, foster care alumni face a variety of obstacles related to successful postsecondary completion. However, it is unclear whether the factors that affect postsecondary success in this population are similar to those identified for other college students or more unique to the distinctive experience of being in foster care. Furthermore, while there is general consensus that higher education is beneficial to foster care alumni in overcoming adversity, no study has examined how foster care alumni who graduate from college actually fare in their adult lives compared with the general population of college graduates, or with those in the general population who did not graduate college. The study aims first to identify the predictors of postsecondary retention and success using survey data from a cross-sectional sample of foster care alumni who received Casey Family Scholarship Program or Orphan Foundation of America Foster Care to Success postsecondary scholarships. Second, the study compares adult outcomes of foster care alumni graduates with general population graduates and general population non-graduates to explore the role higher education plays in these youths' lives. Results are interpreted in relation to Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory, theories of educational persistence and motivation, trauma theory, and theories related to other difficulties of being in foster care. Analyses include bivariate examinations of postsecondary factors and their relation to college disengagement; discrete-time survival analysis of general college retention factors and factors more unique to the foster care population in predicting college graduation; and multivariate comparisons (ANOVA's, ANCOVA's, and chi-squares) of foster youth graduates and non-foster youth graduates and non-graduates in relation to their post-college life circumstances. In bivariate comparisons of general population factors related to retention, five of the nine factors (academic-related skills, institutional commitment, social support, social involvement, and institutional financial support) had at least one indicator with a significant or trend-level relationship with college disengagement. In bivariate comparisons of foster care-specific factors related to retention, four out of the seven factors (maltreatment/ trauma/PTSD, other mental health problems, independent living stability, tangible support) had at least one item with a significant or trend-level relationship with college disengagement. Comparing the two separate factor models, the general population factor group modeled the data slightly better in predicting college graduation than the foster care-specific factor model. No model improvement was found when foster care-specific factors were added into the general population factor model. Both general population and foster care alumni graduates fared more positively than general population non-graduates for three post-college factors: individual income, financial satisfaction, and happiness. Only the general population graduates were found to be faring better than general population non-graduates on a variety of other factors. Foster youth graduates fared less positively than general population graduates on a variety of post-college outcomes. Results have implications for policy and practice regarding the most effective means of supporting postsecondary aspirations of youth with foster care experience.


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Portland State University. Social Work and Social Research Ph. D. Program

Persistent Identifier