School of Education


Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EdD)


Christy James


Foster Youth, Aging Out of Foster Care, Emancipation from Foster care, Independent Living, Higher Education


Education | Higher Education


The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study was to describe the experiences of foster youth who aged out of foster care and enrolled in higher educational programs in rural areas of southern Virginia. The theory that guided this study was Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as it applied to higher educational pursuits of foster youth who had, or were about to, age out of foster care. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory also guided this study to identify additional barriers to higher education for foster youth. This phenomenological study used a transcendental research method. Data collection methods included face-to-face and phone interviews, focus groups, participant captions for picture cards, and data from intake documents and school records that provided accurate demographic information. Interviews and focus groups were conducted primarily by phone while captions, demographics, and consent were compiled through email, postal service, and participating school records. Moustakas’ modified method was used to analyze data for this study. The central research question for consideration was as follows: What are the lived experiences of foster youth who have aged out of foster care and enrolled in community college? The 12 participants for this study shared their unique life experiences as they aged out of foster care and enrolled in higher education programs. While the participants’ educational barriers differed to some degree, one commonality each faced was the lack of a dependable adult role model for encouragement and support. The impact of this missing element was evident in the life-choices of participants.