HIGHER EDUCATION: Actions Needed to Improve Access to Federal Financial Assistance for Homeless and Foster Youth

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report on the challenges and barriers affecting the ability of homeless and foster youth to pursue a college education.

GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the “congressional watchdog,” GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. GAO reports often are used by Members of Congress and federal agencies in crafting policy and legislation.

GAO analyzed the most recently available federal education data—two enrollment data sets, for 2011-2012 and 2013-2014, and data on college completion from 2009; reviewed relevant federal laws and guidance; interviewed officials from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as external groups knowledgeable about higher education, foster youth, and homelessness; and held discussion groups with foster and homeless youth.

GAO makes six recommendations to ED and HHS to improve homeless and foster youths’ access to financial assistance for college, including clarifying ED guidance, considering legislative proposals to simplify requirements for federal programs for homeless and foster youth, and centralizing college information for these youth on ED’s website.