Since 2008, the Bruin Guardian Scholars Program has grown from eight foster students to more than 200. UCLA’s generous donors have made that growth possible with their giving.
A Deeper Level of Student Support
Jill and Timothy Harmon, P ’12 have supported the program for more than a decade, donating funds and volunteering time. Former foster parents, the two have a passion for helping young people succeed in higher education — and an understanding of the challenges that students coming from the foster care system can face.
Their latest gift of $1 million creates an endowment to support Bruin Guardian Scholars in perpetuity, starting with sustaining the program’s full-time social worker. From advising on college plans to serving as a listening ear for life issues, this professional plays an integral role in the program’s wraparound financial assistance, community-building activities, and other resources.
“I knew college would be hard, but I didn’t expect it to be this shocking to my world. I wanted to drop out because I thought college just wasn’t for me,” says one sophomore. “But [the social worker’s] support helped me pass my classes, and now I have hope. They have given me confidence and a shoulder to cry on, and pointed me to the right resources.”
Jill Harmon believes in the importance of the role, too. “When most people recall their college experience, they had family to turn to for guidance, but these students don’t have family to be a sounding board or to share their frustrations,” she says. “We recognized that as the Bruin Guardian Scholars Program grew, there was a tremendous need for that mentor-counselor role at this level, especially to help more of these students graduate from college.”
Shifting the Statistics
Extra support is vital for foster youth, who are even more likely than low-income, first-generation students to drop out of college after one year. Studies estimate only three to five percent earn their bachelor’s degree, compared to more than 30 percent of the general U.S. population. The pandemic, too, has taken a toll, exacerbating economic hardship for many who already struggle to make ends meet.
In response, the Bruin Guardian Scholars Program provides financial aid, improves access to services, and builds self-esteem and supportive community. Participants have highlighted how the program has “provided a safe space and support to help me thrive at UCLA,” made “underrepresented students feel like they belong,” and “become like a second family.”
And the latest graduation rates are encouraging: 60 percent of former foster youth entering UCLA as freshmen graduate in four years, with 77 percent in six years. The four-year rate represents an 11 percentage-point increase over the last few years — which have seen more program participation and funding — topping the six percentage-point rise for the general student body.
With the help of the Bruin Guardian Scholars family, including donors like the Harmons, these students are overcoming the odds and contributing their talents to the community.
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Published May 2021