The University of Utah First Star Academy
is a four-year college access program for high school students in foster care in Utah.
First Star scholars are passionate and engaged young adults who seek to learn, grow and change the world yet face myriad systemic barriers to graduating from high school and accessing higher education. Students in foster care are some of the most educationally marginalized students in our country.
During our monthly Saturday Academies and month-long residential Summer Academies, First Star focuses on academics, life skills, self-advocacy and caregiver engagement. During non-COVID times, First Star scholars live on the University of Utah campus for one month every summer for all four summers of high school. During the COVID-19 pandemic, First Star Summer and Saturday Academies are being held virtually.
The University of Utah First Star Academy is a partnership between the University of Utah, the national non-profit First Star, the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, and the Utah State Board of Education.
Impact Scholars Program
supports college students in Utah who have experienced foster care.
Impact Scholars provides college access to Utah's foster care community, and addresses barriers that often prevent college enrollment and degree completion.
Impact Scholars provides college access services to students with foster care experience seeking enrollment at any institution. For students who study at the University of Utah or Salt Lake Community College, the support continues through graduation. At the U and SLCC, Impact Scholars offers multi-year holistic support, including mentorship, advising, scholarships, community and leadership development. The mission of Impact Scholars is to ensure more foster care alumni enroll in and graduate from higher education.
in both First Star Academy and Impact Scholars in 2020-2021
First Star scholars have achieved extraordinary things, made even more extraordinary because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
of First Star seniors graduated from high school
First Star scholars are exceeding the high school graduation rates of both the general population in Utah and youth in foster care nationally.
Nationally, less than 50% of youth in foster care graduate high school.
In Utah, 88.2% of high school students graduate from high school.
of First Star seniors are attending higher education
First Star scholars are exceeding the college enrollment rates of both the general population and youth in foster care nationally.
Nationlly, less than 10% of youth in foster care attend higher education.
Nationally, 66.7% of high school seniors attend higher education.
of First Star seniors are attending four-year universities
First Star scholars are exceeding the four-year university enrollment rates of the general population.
Nationally, 44% of high school seniors attend four-year universities within a year of graduating high school.
of First Star graduates attending the University of Utah are receiving scholarship support for 2021-2022
The Alex and Elizabeth Smith Impact Scholars Scholarship and the Tamara Hamilton Scholarship gives First Star graduates the opportunity to study at the University of Utah with significant scholarship support.
We are grateful!
SUMMER ACADEMY 2020
During the Covid-19 pandemic,
the University of Utah First Star Academy provided scholars and families with ongoing basic needs support, and pivoted Summer and Saturday Academies to a virtual format.
Ongoing basic needs support includes, but is not limited to, financial assistance with groceries, utility bills, technology, medical expenses, transportation and housing.
of scholars attended virtual Summer Academy 2020
Scholars studied math and college access, which propelled the seniors into a successful year of college and scholarship applications.
Scholars chose virtual electives, such as:
Despite the shift to a virtual format and the myriad impacts the pandemic had on our students, virtual Summer Academy 2020 was a success.
"I loved how connected everyone was even though we weren't together." - Scholar
In addition, throughout the pandemic, the University of Utah First Star Academy continued to provide the ongoing one-on-one support that makes our program so successful. This includes, but is not limited to, mentorship, tutoring, homework help, a listening ear, shared meals, intensive college and scholarship advising, budgeting, navigating resources, resume and cover letter building, and ridiculous amounts of goofy times.
new 9th grade students joined First Star in 2021
Our new scholars come from all over Utah. They represent 21 different towns and 10 different school districts.
We can't wait to see what vibrant, engaging futures our newest scholars create.
"First Star Academy is an absolute game changer. It not only sets you up for success, it sets you up for life. They gave me the opportunity to learn so many things, like how to communicate and build relationships, how to advocate for change and growth, how to be a better student and friend, but most importantly, it taught me how to love life again. First Star gives you another chance in a world that doesn't always seem very forgiving, a chance to be seen and heard, and a chance to change the world one step at a time. It doesn't get better than that!"
-University of Utah First Star Academy Scholar
The power of First Star comes from exceptional community support.
In fall 2020, the Utah State Board of Education awarded First Star $675,000 over five years.
This phenomenal on-going support enables First Star to continue to create exceptional programming, enroll new students, grow the program and increase the number of youth in care graduating from high school and enrolling in higher education. First Star is incredibly grateful to the Utah State Board of Education for your support!
of Impact Scholars' students persisted in higher education during the 2020-2021 school year, despite the enormous hurdles posed by the pandemic and foster care.
These hurdles included widespread housing instability. Half of our scholars faced homelessness in 2020-2021.
Of all Impact Scholars participants in 2020-2021
studied at Salt Lake Community College
studied at the University of Utah
enrolled in other institutions
Four Impact Scholars scholarships are available to participants:
- Alex and Elizabeth Smith Impact Scholars Scholarship
- Tamara Hamilton Scholarship
- Reach360 Grant
- DME Foundation Scholarship
The DME Foundation Scholarship was established in 2020-2021 at Salt Lake Community College for participants in Impact Scholars.
of students received the four Impact Scholars scholarships in the 2020-2021 academic year
100% of students received federal, state and scholarship funding from sources such as:
- Pell Grant
- Transition to Adult Living program
- Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
- Educational Training Vouchers
- Olene S. Walker TAL Scholarship
Impact Scholars assists in accessing and coordinating these and other resources.
In 2020-2021, Impact Scholars served more than four times the number of students it served in 2019-2020.
"The Impact Scholars program has changed my son's future. He had been thinking of skipping college, because he was discouraged by the difficulty of finding the support he needed and deserved as a former foster kid, and that is guaranteed by federal law. After working with our assigned Impact Scholar coordinator, he is not only going to college in the fall, but he also received an athletic scholarship! Our Impact Scholar coordinator identified the person responsible for former foster kids at my son's chosen college, set up virtual meetings with her, and attended as my son's advocate. He also explained to my son how to approach the coach to ask for a scholarship. My son said to me the other day, 'When I was in foster care, I never would've imagined that I'd be a college athlete one day. It's a dream come true.' I cannot thank the Impact Scholar program enough."
--Parent of an Impact Scholar
The power of Impact Scholars comes from exceptional community support.
The Community Foundation of Utah awarded Impact Scholars $10,000 for year two of a three-year matching grant.
An early investment by the Community Foundation of Utah enabled Impact Scholars to pilot in 2020. We are incredibly grateful to the Community Foundation of Utah and the Social Investors Forum for your support!
Our programs save Utah 2.5 million dollars per year
(at a minimum)
How did we arrive at this number?
More young adults who age out of foster care experience homelessness, incarceration, welfare or teenage parenthood than earn a high school diploma. Foster care alumni who graduate college have a much higher chance of positive social and economic outcomes, such as improved quality of life and increased lifetime earnings. This has benefits both to the individual and to the community.
A model created by the Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah shows that for every foster care alumni who does not utilize SNAP, Medicaid, or unemployment benefits and earns wages that close the income gap, the state saves an estimated $51,000 per year. If all 48 current First Star and Impact Scholars students graduate from college, the state would save an estimated 2.5 million dollars each year.
When the model includes the potential for a college degree to prevent incarceration, or a number of other hardships, the positive impact on people’s lives and the economy is even greater.