Aged-out foster, homeless young adults offered debt-free college in Montana

GLENDIVE, N.D. - Montana has the second highest rate of children in foster care in the country according to the federal research center, child trends and thousands of children across the state are homeless.

When foster children age out the system, and homeless children are old enough to be on their own, the Local Homelessness Research Network says they are more at risk to becoming or staying homeless. One community college is doing something about that.

As of 2017, 16.8 out of every 1,000 children were in the foster care system in Montana. The national average is 5.8.

Within the state, there are more than 3,000 homeless students attending public school, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Dawson Community College in Glendive has created the Dawson Promise, a program that assists those children when they become young adults by giving them year-round housing, employment, assistance with resumes and interviews, and a certificate or two-year degree. Students receive this all without any debt.

"I think we're a great place for students to begin and to create that foundation of where they're going to head next, whether it's going to be a transfer to a four year institution or going to partner with one of our industry partners and begin a career," said Leslie Weldon, Dawson Community College vice president of advancement and human resources.

The community is invested in the students as well. Many families participate in the Adopt-a-Buc program that gives any young adult a home away from home.

Weldon added, "We want to make sure that these students definitely have a host family that they can have family dinners with or have them come up and participate in school events with them for that connection to family. "

Weldon said this program is especially beneficial for the students who don't have a permanent home to go back to. Around five young adults have used the Dawson Promise program since it started this summer, but college staff say they hope that number grows as more people learn about it.