Earning a Bachelor’s degree is a big accomplishment for anyone – but especially for students who spent time as teenagers in foster care. The odds are stacked against them. But Detroit native Malaysha White is a success story.
“I have one assignment left. As soon as I submit it, I'm going to do my happy dance. I'm going to put on music and celebrate. I just can't believe it. It just went by so fast,” said Malaysha, grinning from ear to ear.
The 22-year-old’s college career could have easily been derailed.
The second oldest of 7 children was starting her senior year at Cass Tech when her parents started going through some difficult times -- times that Malaysha would rather not go into.
Malaysha and five of her siblings were placed into different foster care homes.
"It was very difficult because I wanted to stay home. I wanted to stay with my family and finish up my senior year and go off to college,” she said.
A good neighbor – Tammy Toko –ended up becoming Malaysha’s foster parent.
And Malaysha stayed focused on her college dreams.
"I applied to like 15-20 colleges and universities, and I was accepted to all of them,” she said with a huge smile.
The Cass Tech honor grad picked the University of Michigan.
Of course, when teens who’ve spent time in foster care turn 18, they’re on their own. The outcomes can be bleak.
The National Working Group on Foster Care and Education just released new findings this month.
According to its National Factsheet on the Educational Outcomes of Children in Foster Care, the percentage of foster care alumni who attain a Bachelor’s degree is 3%-to-10.8%.
“We know that students may end up being homeless after graduation,” said Miriam Connolly, Director of the Blavin Scholars Program at the University of Michigan.
Connolly became Malaysha’s College Coach through the Blavin Scholars Program – which provides students who’ve spent time in foster care support through mentoring, life skills training, and financial assistance.
"College is possible. Many students believe that due to their particular circumstances that they can't go to college. Malaysha is a wonderful example of what could happen for these students,” Connolly said.
Malaysha was fully funded thanks to grants and scholarships for foster care alums – including an Education and Training Voucher through Samaritas.
“What's really cool about our program is not only does it have to go toward their financial aid package, but if a student has their needs met with their financial aid package, they can use our funding for other educational expenses -their housing, groceries, clothes,” explained Tanya Maki, ETV Coordinator for Samaritas.
That funding helped Malaysha with a study abroad semester in Argentina and an internship at Lockheed Martin in Colorado.
But it wasn’t all a breeze. There were tough times.
Making the transition to college that first semester was almost too much for Malaysha.
"I ended up dropping a few classes. And taking some mini courses just to get to full time,” she explained.
She considered quitting college.
But she said she finally reached out to her mentors and college coach for help, and they came through for her.
Their guidance got her back on track, and she’ll be forever grateful.
"I’m studying Spanish II, and I like the phrase sin palabras – which means without words or speechless. That’s what I feel right now,” she said softly.
After graduating from U of M on April 27, 2018, Malaysha will travel to Europe for a month-long trip.
Then she’ll come back to the states to move to Colorado. She landed a job as a Systems Engineer at Lockheed Martin. She start working there in July.