‘Middle College’ for foster kids will change their lives

Early this month, Fairmont State announced its “Middle College” would launch this fall: an endeavor specifically designed to help foster kids make the transition from high school to a two-year, and maybe later a four-year, degree program.

Foster care often gets a bad rap — sometimes unfairly, sometimes deserved — but even in the best-case scenarios, going through foster care can cause a lot of upheaval in a child’s life. Living a life constantly in flux can make it difficult to concentrate on seemingly less important things — like school work. And since many foster kids move around a lot (either between foster families or between their birth family and foster families), they face repeatedly changing schools, which in turn make it easy to fall behind academically.

Nationally, only about 50% of foster children complete high school. Of those, only 2%-6% pursue associate’s degrees and only 4% go on to receive a bachelor’s degree. Middle College allows foster kids 16 or older to simultaneously complete their high school classes and work on a two-year associate’s degree or earn credit toward a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Perhaps the single best feature of FSU’s Middle College is the stability it offers: Enrolled students live in a dedicated dorm open them year-round, so they always have a place to stay. In addition to the residence, Middle College students also have access to 24/7 on-campus support provided by residence hall staff, case managers, therapists and specialized supervisory staff through KVC West Virginia, a trauma-informed foster care agency and mental health treatment provider.

We take for granted just how important it is to have safe, stable shelter; it’s why American psychologist Abraham Maslow made it part of the foundation for his “hierarchy of needs,” along with breathing, eating and sleeping. It’s only when we have our most basic human needs met — sustenance and safety — that we can concentrate on higher-minded endeavors.

Middle College creates a place that meets those basic needs so that attendees can focus on continuing their education. The tuition, fees, “campus living” and wrap-around services, according to FSU, are all covered by federal and state funding, so most of the program is offered for free.

The first cohort of 50 students will be welcomed this fall, and we hope to see the program succeed and expand in the future. If Middle College lives up to expectations, then it could truly be a game-changer — a life-changer — for West Virginia teens in foster care.

If you or someone you know are interested in learning more about Middle College or applying, visit: https://www.fairmontstate.edu/middle-college/