About The Beacon Project
WKU: Providing a Beacon of Hope for Foster Care Alumni
By Daniel Super, Patricia Desrosiers, Sarah Haught & Dana Sullivan
What is a beacon? A beacon can be considered many things including a warning, a signal, a guide, or an inspiration; however, it is always a source of light set in a high or prominent position (Merriam-Webster, 2021). To be a beacon for foster care alumni navigating the waters of college means that others are there with them in prominent and high positions to guide them along their chosen path. Beacons aim to warn about the possible hazards that may be encountered, to guide toward and signal the helpful people and places, and to celebrate success when it is achieved. WKU’s Beacon Project is an example of one project that aims to light the way to a successful college experience for foster care alumni seeking a college degree.
At any given time, WKU is home to many students who were part of the foster care system.. The tragedy, pain, and abuse experienced by the majority of these students is beyond what most of us can imagine. Higher education can be a vehicle delivering foster care alumni to a prosperous and hopeful future – and the Beacon Project aims to provide both guidance and resources to these young adults on the road to college success.
Research has demonstrated that positive educational experiences can counteract the negative impacts of child abuse and neglect requiring foster care placement (Fostering Success in Education, 2018). Salazar (2011) found four factors that predict college retention and graduation in foster care alumni: 1) institutional commitment (refers to the student’s commitment to and satisfaction with the educational institution), 2) social involvement (the feeling of connection with the school), 3) independent living stability (includes housing, transportation, health, money management, etc.), and 4) tangible support (comprehensiveness of academic services available such as tutoring, academic advising, etc.). At WKU, we are ready to make a difference by enhancing our existing services in these four areas to more fully address the challenges presented to Kentucky foster care alumni that are part of the Hilltopper family.
In Kentucky, there are nearly 10,000 youth in foster care – nearly a quarter of whom entered into care for the first time during the middle/high school years (CHFS, 2021). These students aspire to something greater than what they’ve experienced and many are choosing WKU. To this end, the Burch Institute, in partnership with The WKU Center for Child Welfare Education and Research (CCWEAR), cross-divisional support at WKU, and representatives from the Kentucky Department of Community Based Services (DCBS) have created the Beacon Project.
The Beacon Project employs a holistic approach to student development and support of foster youths entering or returning to WKU. Partnering with DCBS, this program aims to be a seamless transition in support from foster care to finding a home on the Hill. Starting in high school, this program will afford opportunities for prospective foster youth to get familiar with campus life and academic expectations through work experiencesand campus visits. Once enrolled as a student, these Hilltoppers engage in collaboratively chosen activities such as individualized programming, peer mentoring, assistance in financial matters, food security, child care, academic support, career coaching, and generally anything that assists these young adults as they navigate college life. WKU serves as a catalyst for student success by supporting foster care alumni throughout their college journey from before admission to after graduation.
While supporting foster care alumni who choose to become part of the Hilltopper family, we hope to inspire our sister institutions to create analogous programs to provide programming and student services for this special population providing access to life-changing higher education to all foster youths across the Kentucky. In these ways, the Beacon Project serves as a beacon of hope for foster youth throughout the Commonwealth. Participating students know that when they choose to attend WKU, they will get the best of what we have to offer, that they are valued, and that we believe the rest of their life holds the best of their life. These future leaders will know that the Hilltopper family is dedicated to their success as we climb arm in arm with them to achieve greater heights.
Cabinet for Health and Family Services (2021). Statewide Foster Care Facts. Retrieved from: https://chfs.ky.gov/agencies/dcbs/dpp/Documents/Statewide.pdf
Fostering Success in Education (2018). National factsheet on the educational outcomes of children in foster care. National Working Group on Foster Care and Education. Retrieved from: https://fosteringchamps.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/NationalEducationDatasheet2018-2.pdf
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Beacon. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/beacon
National Youth Foster Institute (2017). 51 useful again out of foster care statistics. Social Race Media. Retrieved from: https://nfyi.org/51-useful-aging-out-of-foster-care-statistics-social-race-media/
Salazar, A.M. (2011). Investigating the Predictors of Postsecondary Education Success and Post-College Life Circumstances of Foster Care Alumni. Retrieved from PDX Scholar Library.
Stewart, C.J., Kum, H.C., Barth, R.P., & Duncan, D.F. (2014). Former foster youth: Employment outcomes up to age 30. Children and Youth Services Review, 36, 220-229. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2013.11.024