UTSA program offers former foster youth support to succeed in college

Many foster teens skip college because they lack support, finances

SAN ANTONIO - – Foster children who age out of the system often lack support, making college seem out of reach.

That’s why local colleges are taking action.

Jazelynn Montemayor is about to graduate from UTSA early with a finance degree. It’s an impressive feat for any student, let alone one with a challenging background.

“I think I would have been, not to be vulgar, but in a ditch somewhere. I did not have the best life growing up from the beginning, and it wouldn’t have ended up that well,” Montemayor said.

She landed in foster care at age three and years later she was finally adopted.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” she said.

Montemayor said so many foster children age out of the system with little to no support and don’t even dream of going to college.

That’s what UTSA is helping change with its Fostering Educational Success Center (FESC), a one-stop shop for former foster youth.

First, they get connected with a campus coach.

“Making sure they feel comfortable taking classes, that their financial needs are met, their housing needs are met, even connection to physical and mental health resources as well,” FESC Associate Director Emily Marcotte said.

It’s important the students feel they have trusted points of contact, and don’t feel pulled in several directions like they likely did in foster care.

“This centralized person is a person they know is safe who will not judge them, won’t ask too many personal questions,” Marcotte said.

All coaches undergo training that includes trauma-informed care.

The office also has a large pantry where the students in the program can pick up items for free. They have typical pantry items like toiletries, food, and even school supplies, but they also have baby products and pet products.

“We ask for feedback on what the students need, and that’s how we’ve created this unique pantry,” Marcotte said.

They also offer skills workshops.

“I have friends who don’t know how to use a dryer, washer, use a credit card,” Montemayor said. “They help us here with that. They do workshops. They teach us these things because they know sometimes no one is there to help you.”

Since its inception in 2019, the program has served 150 students.

“Our trajectory for admissions now is double that of last year. Last year we brought in an incoming group of over 100,” Marcotte said. “We’re expecting 200 new to UTSA students.”

The program was created as part of the Bexar County Fostering Educational Success collaborative project in 2019. Other higher education agencies like Texas A&M San Antonio and The Alamo Colleges District also have similar programs.

Montemayor said the program is changing lives. That’s why she helped create a student organization that caters to those former foster youth, to offer camaraderie and support.

“They want to get their masters, they want to get their doctorates, so that’s the support system you need to really understand you can do this,” Montemayor said.

The soon-to-be graduate is proof to other foster youth that their past does not have to define their future.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.