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Arizona, GCU partner on scholarship program for foster children

Foster children who graduate high school and want to attend Grand Canyon University will be able to do so free of charge under a new program the school is offering, with the state helping to pick up the tab. 

The program covers not only tuition and fees, but room and board for the foster children who, unlike other students, don’t always have a home they can return to during holiday and summer breaks. Students in the program will graduate from the private Christian university with no student loans, meaning any money they earn through their guaranteed campus job will be theirs for life after college. 

In addition, those students will have access to special counseling with the schools admissions office and student services, along with life skills training and mentorship programs.

During a press conference Thursday at the university to unveil the program, GCU President Brian Mueller spoke of both prosperity and poverty as intergenerational. 

“They’ll graduate in very, very important areas like nursing and education and engineering and computer science and information technology. They’re going to make a major contribution to the state of Arizona’s economy. And they’re going to start families, and those families are going to flourish in a very intergenerational way,” Mueller said. 

About 800 foster children age out of the system each year, about 44% of them graduate high school, Mueller said. 

Between tuition, fees, meals, room and board, it costs about $27,610 to attend GCU each year, according to the school. Foster students are already eligible for federal programs that cover nearly $11,500. The university’s new Foster Futures Scholarship program will cover another $12,615, while the remaining $3,500 will be covered by the Arizona Department of Child Safety under its partnership with GCU.

Jacqueline Carter, a former foster child who graduated from GCU in 2020, provided a stirring example of what the opportunity could mean for hundreds of people who age out of the foster system.

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When she first got to campus, Carter’s foster mother dropped her off and drove away. It was a stark contrast with many of the other new students Carter saw having tearful goodbyes with their proud mothers and fathers.

“That hurt, because I didn’t have that experience. So, not having a normal college experience was a huge obstacle that I had to overcome,” she said. 

Carter teared up at times as she described coming into her own at GCU. She said she found her community at the school, which became her home, especially during breaks, when she had no other place to go home to. 

“I celebrated Christmases here, Thanksgivings here with my friends. This campus is where I found God. And I know some people think it’s kind of corny, but, yes, I found my purpose here,” she said. 

Gov. Doug Ducey said foster children face significant challenges that other people don’t, and touted the new program as an opportunity for not just a degree, but for stability and a roof over their heads for four years. He noted that housing stability is one of the biggest challenges that young people face when aging out of the foster care system. Ducey said Arizona has some of the best universities in the country, but that for underrepresented, low-income students, attendance is out of reach due to the cost. 

“We want to ensure that these kids have every opportunity once they reach adulthood. And Jackie, you are just an outstanding example of what is possible. I’m just so proud of you and what you’ve accomplished. Your future’s incredibly bright,” Ducey said. “And that’s what this scholarship is all about. More Jackies. We need more Jackies.”

To qualify for the program, students must be Arizona residents who were in foster care as of age 17, and they must either have an open case with the Department of Child Safety or be enrolled in other foster or after-care programs. They also must meet the 3.0 grade point average required of all students for admission.

There are already about 100 foster students attending GCU, according to university spokesman Bob Romantic. Many of those students already get other scholarships. Academic scholarships are available for any GCU student with a GPA of at least 3.0, which is the minimum needed to attend the school, so every student there is eligible for a scholarship. Foster students also qualify for Pell grants and other federal funding. 

The state doesn’t have a price tag for its part of the program yet. DCS estimates that as many as 200 students could participate each year, which would represent a quarter of the foster students who leave foster care annually, though Director Mike Faust called that a “very aspirational goal.”

“That’s what we’d love to see. I don’t see it getting that big that quick. But, if we’re that fortunate, right on. That would be great,” Faust told reporters after the press conference. 

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If 200 students used the scholarships each year, the cost to the agency would be about $700,000.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University alumnus Jacqueline Carter, a former foster child, speaks at a Feb. 24, 2022, press conference announcing a partnership between GCU and the Arizona Department of Child Safety to allow some foster children to attend the school for free.

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