Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Interdisciplinary Health Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Kieran Fogarty

Second Advisor

Dr. Amy Damashek

Third Advisor

Dr. Amy Dworsky


Changes in the U.S. economy have made the attainment of a higher education credential more important than ever to ensure self-sufficiency. Therefore, it is critical that the child welfare, K-12, and higher education systems encourage and support the postsecondary educational aspirations of court wards. When the state makes the decision to remove a child from his/her biological home, it bears the responsibility to provide the educational guidance as well as assistance otherwise provided by families during the transition from high school to college.

This dissertation explores the educational outcomes of older youth in care by first looking at the perceptions of high school aged foster youth in identifying the barriers and pathways they face in graduating from high school and accessing college and then will investigate persistence in post-secondary education for a sample of foster care alumni who are enrolled at a four-year college. The first study investigates the barriers and pathways high school and college-aged foster care youth face in completing high school and in transitioning from high school to college using action research strategies, which are based on an empowerment theoretical framework. The second study follows a cohort of students who were able to successfully enroll in a four-year university and tracks persistence in their post-secondary education program using two logistic regression models. The final study takes a look at the same cohort of university enrolled students, but tracks time varying indicators including persistence to graduation and academic achievement of the students throughout their post-secondary journey through the use of discrete time hazard models. Paper two aims to address whether having a placement history in the foster care system predicts dropping out, controlling for gender and race. Paper three examines the issue of college persistence by using an event history analysis to model relative risk of graduation from college over time. Study three also includes an additional time varying covariate, academic performance (GPA), and examines whether academic achievement predicts time to graduation. Although each paper is independent, they are connected by the common theme of college access and persistence of young people who have aged out of the foster care system.

The benefit to the author of the three-paper method is that the task of submitting the findings of the study for publication is eased as the dissertation contains three standalone articles. A drawback for the reader of the three-paper method is that there is redundancy in reading the same sections in each paper. The reader is encouraged to keep in mind that some information may be redundant when read as a whole document.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access