Madison Sandoval-Lunn cycled through seven homes before aging out of Nevada’s foster care system.
She graduated from UNLV in 2014, but told the state Board of Regents on Thursday that it was “no easy task,” having endured bouts of both homelessness and hunger throughout her journey.
The board on Thursday unanimously approved a tuition waiver for the state’s foster youth that could help students like Sandoval-Lunn earn a college certificate or degree.
“Today, we have a chance to give kids hope,” said state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, who helped bring the idea to the Nevada System of Higher Education, along with her Big Brother Big Sister mentee, Alexis, a foster youth. “So many times the work we do in government isn’t tangible. We can truly make a difference in the lives of youth who are counting on us to make a difference.”
The program will allow students to register for credit without paying certain fees, similar to the waiver available to members of the Nevada National Guard. Thursday’s approval makes Nevada the 29th state to provide tuition assistance for foster youth.
“This is the work that we should be doing,” Regent Sam Lieberman said. “We are allowing children with challenges to become academically prepared to enter our workforce and stay here.”
The program will begin in January and is estimated to cost $115,000 for the first group of students, which is based on the 2018-19 base registration fee and a college continuation rate of 20 percent of foster youth, or about 47 students. Eligibility begins at the age of 14.
Clark and Washoe counties are also partnering with NSHE to provide mentors to the students.
Regent Allison Stephens, however, said she’s not sure that the campuses are prepared to provide all the services that foster youth need, and wants to see the state support the new endeavor as well.
“It’s something I’d like to see coming from our legislative colleagues,” Stephens said. “I want to make sure we’re providing those wraparound services that are essential for graduation.”