There are many reasons collaborations develop. Sometimes it’s to create efficiencies, generate profit or spur solutions. But the ones that most people remember are those that come from the heart. The Bexar County Fostering Educational Success project (BCFES) is a prime example of the region’s commitment to student success.
“I’ve learned that everyone has a pure interest in providing support to students with a history of foster care,” says Airika Buford, project director at BCFES. “They have compassion for our region’s students and want to see them succeed. It’s truly a selfless act of service.”
I have asked for a long time why is this so and why as a society do we tolerate it? Why are expectations any lower for young people who have been in foster care than what I hold for my own daughter or my parents held for me?
The BCFES is a partnership between UTSA, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, the Alamo Colleges District, Bexar County Children’s Court and Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA). The program aims to improve college graduation rates for students with a history in foster care and to increase college awareness and enrollment for children still in foster care.
Data show that about 4% of those who have been in foster care will earn a college degree. While many experience trauma, homelessness and mental health and substance abuse problems, they may never know the lifelong benefits of completing college.
In this interview, KSAT-TV talks to UTSA about the Bexar County Fostering Educational Success’s impact.
“I have asked for a long time why is this so and why as a society do we tolerate it? Why are expectations any lower for young people who have been in foster care than what I hold for my own daughter or my parents held for me?” says UTSA First Lady Peggy Eighmy, who has been the catalyst for the BCFES project on behalf of UTSA and the region.
Eighmy began her career in child welfare in Massachusetts and has served as a court-appointed special advocate in Tennessee and Texas. Now she is aiming to improve across Bexar County the destinies of youth with a history of foster care.
Initially the project aimed to support only those at UTSA. However, Eighmy credits State Sen. José Menéndez and Children’s Court Judge Peter Sakai, both of whom advocated for the collaboration in Bexar County.
Eighmy also tapped expertise from Megan Piel, an assistant professor in the UTSA College for Health, Community and Policy’s Department of Social Work.
Piel’s research and social work experience have focused on supporting youth transitioning to adulthood from the foster care system, including transitions to postsecondary education.
Piel and Eighmy collaborated on the language that was needed to draft the bill sponsored by State Senators Menéndez and Pete Flores, as well as State Representatives Ina Minjarez and Trey Martinez Fischer, that eventually won first-of-its-kind funding from the Texas Legislature.
The BCFES was awarded $3.5 million during its initial launch in 2019. As evidence of the pilot project’s early impact, the countywide collaboration received full funding again.
The pilot funds campus-based support programs, as well as pre-college programming in partnership with the Bexar County Children’s Court, CASA, Texas A&M-San Antonio and the Alamo Colleges. Nearly 400 college students and youth still in foster care have received targeted support. The pilot has also expanded its work to partner with six independent school districts to reach high school students in foster care.
The success of the program is already evident. The initial cohort consisted of 116 UTSA students, and enrollment for fall 2021 was up to nearly 200 students with a history in foster care.