Texas A&M University introduced a program this semester that will provide additional financial assistance to students who have aged out of the Texas foster care system.
Through the Supervised Independent Living program, students can receive funds for housing, meal plans, cellphone fees, hygiene products and other college expenses. To be in the SIL program, students must opt back into the Texas foster care system, be a full-time student, live on campus year-round and meet weekly with the foster care liaison from Student Services in the Offices of the Dean of Student Life. Students 18 to 21 years old can participate.
Educational psychology sophomore Mikayla Slaydon is the first student on A&M’s flagship campus to benefit from SIL. She is a member of the Former Foster and Adopted Aggies program, a Fish Camp counselor and counselor for the Freshman Leadership Organization Aggie Fish Club.
Slaydon entered the foster care system when she was 15, and said she is fortunate to have a foster mom who she is still close to. Slaydon said she was grateful to everyone who helped her get involved with SIL to help her afford higher education.
“Anyone can do this program as long as you meet the general requirements,” Slaydon said. “This program is definitely in reach for foster students out there who may be looking at this and wondering, ‘Oh, I’ll never be like her. I’ll never get to that stage.’ I just want to emphasize, ‘Yes you will. It’s definitely something that’s attainable.’”
Federal legislation established a supervised independent living component of Extended Foster Care, and in 2009, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services worked on an implementation plan. SIL placements started in 2013.
Students who were once in foster care are eligible for a tuition waiver, said Kate Mason, Unlimited Potential Brazos Valley program coordinator. The Unlimited Potential organization provides a resource center and mentorship for local youths who aged out of foster care. Mason said SIL is important since fewer than 3% of people who age out of foster care get a college degree, largely because the waiver doesn’t cover other expenses involved with going to school.
A&M case manager and foster care liaison Melanie McKoin Owens said her duty is to guide and support students as they transition into adulthood by helping them learn things like how to study efficiently, financial and career planning, cooking, housekeeping and other life skills.
“Being able to share a life goes further, with any student, than we all realize,” McKoin Owens said. “Working with [Mikayla] is just a small reminder that the little things in life are what carries a person.”
McKoin Owens said there are about 60 students who were once in foster care attending A&M, with two of them being eligible for SIL as people who aged out of foster care. She said she hopes to grow the program to have five to 10 students in the coming years.
“I’ve been working with the foster care population since 2017,” McKoin Owens said. “What I know is that the numbers are small with this population. However, making a difference in one of their lives is super impactful.”
Six of the 11 Texas A&M University System schools have implemented SIL on their campuses. The Corpus Christi and Kingsville campuses were the first schools in the system to get involved, according to the university.
Texas A&M University Corpus Christi program specialist and foster care liaison Jessica Spahr said the program on her campus started last year with four students and has grown to nine. Spahr said she is happy to see SIL introduced at the College Station campus.
“Hearing what some of these students have overcome as a 17- or 18-year-old — as an adult who is self-sufficient, I’m not sure I would have been able to do what they did to be able to come to school,” Spahr said. “So any kind of support we can provide them, we’re working on doing that.”