Former foster youth overcomes obstacles, succeeds
Ayla Koob has beaten the odds more than once in her life. In foster care for three years, she aged out in 2009, graduated from college with two degrees and planned to return to school to earn double master’s degrees.
She succeeded with a lot of perseverance and the help of the department’s Education and Training Vouchers, which helps current and former foster, and adopted youth to attend colleges, universities, vocational and technical programs. Eligible students can receive up to $5,000 per school year to pay for tuition, fees, books, housing, transportation, and other school-related costs and living expenses.
Koob used the vouchers all four years to earn degrees in Social Work and Psychology with a minor in Chemical Dependency Counseling from Bemidji State University.
- Freshman year: purchased books and paid for tuition not covered by grants and waivers.
- Sophomore year: paid for books and tuition.
- Junior year: purchased a laptop when hers crashed.
- Senior year: paid for rent, utilities and other expenses that she couldn’t afford despite working two jobs.
“Being in the foster care system and thinking about college was a scary thought,” said Koob, now a licensed social worker and a regional coordinator for TXT4Life, a suicide awareness and prevention organization in Minnesota. “I knew that I wouldn’t have the stable support to help me out financially for all the different expenses that would occur while in college. I believe that the Education and Training Voucher Program helped facilitate my success as an undergraduate.”
During the 2014-2015 school year, the Minnesota Department of Human Services awarded 127 at-risk youth an average of $3,000 in Education and Training Vouchers to attend post-secondary school. They ranged in age from 18 to 22, and were first- to fifth-year students. Most received other financial aid, including federal Pell grants, Minnesota state grants, tuition waivers and scholarships. They attended public and private universities and colleges both inside and outside Minnesota.
Combining December 2014 and May 2015 graduations, 35 current and former foster youth who received the vouchers earned certificates and diplomas for associate or bachelor’s degrees in nursing, accounting, business management, automotive technology and several other areas of learning.
Koob is already giving back to the community. She has interned and served as an outreach coordinator at two domestic and sexual violence shelters, worked as a mental health worker for adults with serious and persistent mental illness and currently volunteers as a sexual violence advocate. Koob plans to attend graduate school for master’s degrees in both social work and public policy.
To qualify for the vouchers, students must be in foster care up to age 18, under state guardianship at age 18, or under the custody of a relative or adopted from foster care at or after age 16. Students must apply, submit essays and attend an orientation session to receive the vouchers. For students interested in applying, check the department’s Education and Training Voucher Program webpage.