Gift Of Love: Foster Children Go To College For Free - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

2/11/04-Commerce, TX

Gift Of Love: Foster Children Go To College For Free

Every year thousands of foster children turn 18, losing their temporary families, with few if any resources with which to pursue higher education. Texas decided to do something about it. More than a decade ago, efforts began to ensure that Texas foster children get the help they need to earn a college education. It all started in East Texas. In this story, we look at how the tut ion waiver is affecting two local foster children

Jason hill and his little sister Heidi enjoy hanging out together. On this day, it's a friendly sibling rivalry over a game of pool. They formed that close bond when they were young, and only had each other. They were removed from their home at ages 9 and 5. They have been in foster care ever since. "It's taken a toll on us in different ways," says Heidi.

As they grew, so did their dreams. Jason wants to be a professor. Heidi wants to be a Christian Singer. But reaching their dreams is another story. Jason says, "I didn't know any foster children who went to college. Also in high school I was working full time as a manager. I ran track and I was going to church. So, I had all these things and so my grades we not all that great. So, I assumed I couldn't make it in college, but I was willing to give it a try."

Jason was given the opportunity because of a tuition waiver for Texas foster children."It's almost like we've given them a Christmas present," says Randy McDonald, Director of Admissions and School Relations at Texas A & M University at Commerce.

It all got started at Texas A & M University at Commerce, formally know as East Texas State University. "We've always been committed to giving people of limited means an opportunity to get an education. It just seemed to fit in with our mission," says Keith McFarland, Texas A & M University at Commerce.

This institution was already giving foster children scholarships when the state began to take notice. Finally in 1993, legislation was signed into law allowing Texas foster children to attend state schools with tuition and fees waived. McFarland goes on to say, "I think it's important because you can just about be assured that these individuals will make sure that their children get a college education. Here's a real calling that can change the lives of a lot of individuals and it will make this state a better place to live."

This year, there are 16 foster children enrolled at Texas A & M University at Commerce. "You know it's that story about the kid and the star fish. You know you may not be able to help all of them but, by golly, you helped that one and then we helped another one and on and on and on," says McDonald.

Not only did Jason except this educational opportunity, he excelled, proving foster children have the same drive as other children. Jason proudly says, "I graduated with a 4.0 GPA. I got to actually sit on the stage with all the professors on graduation day, and that was really neat for me and my foster parents were there. That was probably the best day of my life." He is set to graduate again, with his masters degree. His sights are now set on getting a PH.D.

Heidi is very proud of her brother and hopes to follow in his footsteps. She too is attending Texas A & M University at Commerce, thanks to the tuition waver for foster children. "I appreciate things a lot more. You learn to appreciate not just things but people. Who they are. What they are and what they do. I don't regret not being with my biological family. It's an awesome experience and I'm glad God choose me to be the one to do it because I don't know if someone else could have handled it," says Heidi sincerely.

But Heidi and Jason encourage foster children to never give up. Jason says, "I try to give back to foster kids now and talk to them. That's all I can do. That's where my heart is. I want to do that till the end." Heidi adds, "It's a rough ride, but in the end it all pays off. You know I can say there are things I've asked God for and he always comes through. Sometimes he makes me wait. Sometimes he makes me wait a long time, but he's come through in the end in everything."

Thanks to the tuition waver, Texas A & M University is opening new doors for Jason and Heidi, helping them reach their dreams.

Since Texas signed the tuition waiver into law, 17 other states have implemented programs helping foster children.. Ten of them have actually passed legislation granting tuition waivers similar to Texas.

If you want to learn more about Jason hill's story, you can log onto his web site at

Gillian Sheridan, reporting.

Powered by Frankly