SAN MARCOS -- Only a fraction of former foster care children in Texas take advantage of the state's tuition and fee waiver program, a fact confirmed by records obtained by the KENS 5 I-Team.
According to numbers provided by the Texas High Education Coordinating Board, 3,195 former foster care youth (roughly 6 percent of those who were eligible) utilized the tuition waiver last school year.
The THECB did not provide data for the exact number of people eligible, but multiple state child care experts have previously said that the figure has been at least 50,000 in past years.
Since 1993, any person who spent time in the state foster care system, including children later adopted, are eligible for a full tuition and fee waiver at in-state institutions as long as they enroll in a college course before they turn 25.
"The kids don't have the support that they need," said Renee Garvens, director of community and donor relations for Roy Maas Youth Alternatives, a San Antonio non-profit that provides counseling and residential services for foster care children and for teens aging out of the system.
Turning Point, the non-profit's transitional living program for teens, has played a big role in helping eligible people get into college and apply for the waiver.
"These kids get to 18, they have literally had no control over their destiny their entire lives," added Garvens, explaining why such a small number of eligible people sign up for the waiver.
Katy Cash, 18, is a Turning Point resident in the process of enrolling at San Antonio College.
"They just want to get out of the foster care system, they don't want to go to school," said Cash, when asked why so few eligible people utilize the waiver.
Lauren Tyler-Smith, a junior at Texas State University, is using the tuition and fee waiver to obtain a General Studies degree.
Tyler-Smith moved 20 times in seven years before being adopted at 16.
"Throughout foster care, it was literally, like most of my homes, it was get up, go to school. They just wanted you out of the house," said Tyler-Smith, who credited Roy Maas Youth Alternatives for educating her about the tuition waiver.
Officials with the THECB, which tracks the use of the waiver, declined repeated requests for an on-camera interview.
Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes released the following statement last month:
Exemption programs for current and former foster care students are an important way to make higher education accessible for young people who have overcome unique challenges. We take seriously our responsibility to help increase knowledge of these programs, and are working with colleges and universities and stakeholder groups to make sure they have the information they need to promote this benefit.