By Joan Weiner

Emma RamirezFor Emma Ramirez, being a foster child didn’t define who she is or where she is going.

At CSU Monterey Bay, she’s working to make sure other former foster youth can say the same thing.
“My goal growing up was to graduate from high school,” Ramirez said. “Now, I’d like to earn a master’s degree in higher education administration. I’d like to create an Upward Bound-type program for foster students.”

CSUMB is among an increasing number of colleges and universities that offer more services to students who grew up in foster care, including a support group that meets regularly at the Personal Growth and Counseling Center. Several years ago, the university established a Former Foster Youth President’s Advisory Council to identify needs and establish programs to meet them. The university and the Monterey County Department of Social and Employment Services recently signed an agreement to identify foster youth while they’re still in high school and help them transition to the university. Ramirez, a junior Liberal Studies major, has met with campus administratorsto talk about the needs of former foster youth. She and other students from similar backgrounds identified year-round housing as a roadblock to college. That’s now available to them at CSUMB. Also, a retention adviser in the Educational Opportunity Program has been assigned to work with them.

Ramirez has taken her advocacy work on behalf of foster youth beyond campus. She is vice president of Monterey’s chapter of California Youth Connection, an organization of current and former foster youth who advocate in Sacramento. The group had a role in last year’s passage of Assembly Bill 12, which extends the age at which students age out of care from 18 to 20.
She also serves as Monterey County’s representative to the statewide Youth Council, which works with several state agencies on implementing Assembly Bill 12. She travels to Sacramento every six weeks to attend meetings.

Ramirez entered care at age 4 when her mother was deported. She lived in nine homes. Her last placement came at age 11 in San Diego, and she still considers that her home. After graduating from high school and aging out of care at 18, she connected with CSUMB’s outreach programs to ease her transition to university life.

She’s beating the odds. Only half of foster children graduate from high school, and only 20 percent of those enroll in college, according to the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Fewer than 5 percent earn degrees.

While support programs can help ease the way, “It comes down to a personal decision,” Ramirez said. “You have to decide that you want something better for yourself.”