The University of Houston has announced a $17 million gift from Houston philanthropists Andy and Andrea Diamond, which will be used to offer financial, academic, mentoring and other support for students aging out of the foster care system.
The Diamond Family Scholars program extends beyond scholarships and stipends to build a learning community for the students, focused on advising, mentoring and sharing living space in one of the University’s residence halls. It will cover room and board, as well as books and other supplies.
“We want to create hope for those aging out of foster care,” Andy Diamond said. “Their circumstances are beyond their control. Now, however, those who want to help themselves will have an opportunity to do so. Success is defined not by a gift, but rather by hard work and determination.”
More than 23,000 youth a year nationally age out of the foster care system when they turn 18, according to the National Foster Youth Institute. Experts say few have the outside support, both financial and emotional, that can be crucial to college success.
“This is a special population of students,” said Richard Walker, vice president for student affairs and enrollment services. “We want to make sure these students stay in school and that we are providing them the support they need.”
The project will focus on improving success rates – from recruiting to retention and graduation – for students who were previously in the foster care system. A group will be selected each year for the Scholars program, which includes the opportunity to live together in a living and learning community at Cougar Village. The expanded services, including enhanced advising and mentoring, will be available to all UH students who have been in the foster care system.
Andrea Diamond said she and her husband ask only that Diamond Family Scholars pay it forward in the future. “Sometime down the road, give another person in need hope and opportunity,” she said.
Between 60 and 100 UH students self-identify as graduates of the foster care system every year. The group has a current four-year graduation rate of 37 percent; the program has targeted a graduation rate of 60 percent after the first four years, with a long-term goal of 80 percent.
The Diamond endowment will cover operational support, in addition to direct financial support, Walker noted, ensuring the University can offer more intensive services to those who need it.
That, he said, could make a real difference in ensuring success – and higher graduation rates – for this group of students.
The state of Texas currently offers tuition waivers and other assistance for college students who formerly lived in foster care, although not everyone qualifies for the help. Others give up because of the complicated application system.
The Diamond Family Scholars program will be housed in the University’s Urban Experience Program under the leadership of UEP director Raven Jones, Ph.D., and will help students tap all established resources, using the endowment to fill the gaps. But the heart of the program lies in a series of other services, ranging from recruiting in area high schools to enhanced advising and connections with peer, faculty and staff mentors.
Eloise Brice, vice president of University Advancement, said the gift will help the University serve all students. “The Diamond Family Scholars program will allow us to help these students who are very capable but sometimes hit roadblocks,” she said. “This gift can remove those roadblocks.”
The gift contributes to the University’s $1 billion “Here, We Go” Campaign, the first major fundraising campaign in more than 25 years, in support of major University initiatives.