Getting by and getting ahead: Social capital and transition to college among homeless and foster youth

Kim Skobba, David Meyers, Lori Tiller - Children and Youth Services Review


Despite the desire and motivation to earn a college degree, only a small portion of young adults who have experienced homelessness or in foster care succeed in achieving this goal. Some of the very familiar challenges encountered throughout childhood– the lack of a stable home, financial resources to cover basic needs, inadequate academic preparation and stability, and the lack of a support system - often persist into young adulthood making the transition to college especially difficult. This qualitative study examines the academic pathways of 33 college students with a history or foster care placement, homelessness, or both, to better understand the ways in which forms of social capital influence the transition to college and early college experiences. Many of the student participants described receiving both social support and social leverage in high school through family members, teachers, and adult role models who provided encouragement or developed connections to resources and opportunities. In high school, this support often helped students get ahead by providing access to the information and resources needed to take entrance tests, complete applications and forms, and secure college acceptance. In college, students relied on social support to meet basic needs and maintain enrollment financially and academically. Many students received or fostered social leverage in college through adult mentors and engagement in student organizations and activities. More research is needed to understand the role of aid and social resources in helping young adults who have experienced foster care or homelessness access and complete higher education and what separates these students from others who have not successfully developed social capital and social leverage networks.