The 2018 Passport to College State Conference was the biggest in 10 years and successfully kicked off an historic 3-year program expansion. 

No one knows more about the challenges foster youth face in pursuing higher education than Passport scholar Alexis Arambul. Alexis entered foster care as an infant and was adopted early in life. But at age 15 she was placed back in the system. She attended five different high schools as her placements sporadically changed. In February of her senior year, she turned 18, aged out of care, and found herself homeless months prior to graduation. Fortunately, a parent of a friend agreed to let her stay with their family, no strings attached, until graduation.

Alexis Arambul shared her story and recommendations with conference attendees on May 10.

Despite facing relentless adversity, Alexis earned a 3.9 GPA, graduated on time from high school, and was accepted to every college she applied to including Washington State University. On May 5, 2018, Alexis earned her BA in political science from WSU, beating the odds and taking a radical step toward actualizing her personal and professional goals.

On May 10, Alexis delivered a keynote speech to Passport Conference attendees, mostly student support professionals. In her speech, she stressed that while she beat the odds – only 3% of students from foster care ever earn a college degree – systems need to do more to support students coming behind her. After attending the two-day event, she felt optimistic that state-level student outcomes could improve in the near future.

“Especially this year, with the bill passing, we are going to get a lot more schools involved, and a lot more support systems for those students…I’m just really hopeful for the future when it comes to the Passport to Careers program.”

Speaking at the Passport Conference put an exclamation point on an incredible senior year that included a summer internship in Washington DC with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and a winter internship with the Washington State Legislature.

“It was really great to have a platform to talk, not only about my experience, but to hopefully inspire those who work with students every day. For me, it was a great ending to my time in college.”

The Passport to College State Conference is an annual professional development and networking event for practitioners who support students from foster care pursuing higher education. This year the event returned to the campus of University of Washington, Tacoma on May 9 and 10.

Five student speakers addressed Passport Conferece attendees from the main stage over the course of two days. They are pictured here with CSF co-founder and foster parent Ann Ramsay-Jenkins.

May 9 featured co-founder of the College Success Foundation Ann Ramsay-Jenkins, four student speakers, nationally celebrated motivational speaker Arel Moodie, and sixteen workshops. On May 10 speakers included state Senator Reuven Carlyle, president of Seattle University Fr. Stephen Sundborg, director of student financial assistance at the Washington Student Achievement Council Becky Thompson, and state Representative Ruth Kagi.

Senator Carlyle challenged the audience to innovate and center the needs of students – not the priorities of systems or bureaucracies.

One goal of the May 10 program was to communicate information about an historic 3-year program expansion resulting from recently passed Senate bill 6274, which renames the Passport to College program Passport to Careers. Another was to articulate commitment from leaders in higher education and state government to equitable higher education outcomes for students from foster care. Senator Carlyle, author of the bill that established the Passport to College program in 2007, received a lively ovation after challenging attendees to persistently innovate, break down barriers, and organize around the needs of students – not the priorities of bureaucracies or systems.

But no speaker that morning received louder or more sustained applause than Alexis, who closed her speech with a quote from her favorite character from Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen. “I am no ordinary woman,” she said. “My dreams come true.”

The College Success Foundation and the Washington Student Achievement Council are grateful for all who helped make the conference a success. With nearly 200 attendees, it was the largest yet, and came at a strategically critical moment with the 3-year expansion beginning to roll out on July 1, 2018. The Washington Passport Network is well positioned to support quality implementation of Passport to Careers, and in doing so help many more students from care earn their degrees and make dreams come true.

Conference workshop presentations and materials
Passport implementation resources