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Great Expectations program helps foster kids go anywhere, too

Representatives at the Skilled Trades Academy expansion event.

Achieving a college education can be a daunting prospect if you’re a foster kid like Percy Dean.

While many teens view college as the natural next step after high school, for those who age out of the foster care system, the challenges can be staggering.

That’s where the Great Expectations program comes into play.

Now in its 11th year at Virginia’s Community Colleges, the program focuses on building trust and support to transition foster youth to college and help them thrive.

Percy Dean on Norfolk Campus.

Dean, a foster kid since age 13, graduated from Indian River High and is one of many success stories. He is a few classes away from earning his Associate of Applied Science in Management at Tidewater Community College. He will continue at Norfolk State University for his bachelor’s in business administration. The Army National Guard member hopes to become a transportation officer.

Dean, 25, is where he is thanks to Great Expectations, which offers tuition assistance to qualifying students, as well as financial help with books and fees. The program also helps fund emergency needs.

“Great Expectations is way more than free tuition,” Dean said. “It gives you a coach and a chance to focus on your future. With that, you can do just about anything, including earning your degree.

Every year, some 20,000 of the nation’s nearly 450,000 foster kids encounter an abrupt end to support while many of their peers enroll in college.

Lack of financial resources and gaps in life skills are magnified by the absence of a family or network to encourage them to enroll and support their journey.

Dean’s father died when he was 5, and when his family could no longer care for him,  he entered foster care. His foster mom, “Ms. Janette,” helped him find the Great Expectations program at TCC.

“Foster kids go through a lot and often don’t have a voice,” Dean said. “You have to remain focused and have a vision for yourself, something that can be difficult when you have to navigate college life, home life and you don’t have any support.”

Okema Branch, program coordinator of Great Expectations at TCC, became his life line and is part of a network of faculty and staff here that Dean regards as his village.

“We are proud to offer support to foster youth in our community who have experienced hardships and often trauma,” Branch said. “We’re here to help them with their education so they can be independent and lead successful lives.”

In addition to covering the financial burden of college, Great Expectation provides services such as academic advising, tutoring, career coaching, job application help, life skills training and leadership development.

To be eligible for the Great Expectations program, you must:

  • be between the ages of 17 and 24
  • have been affiliated with the Virginia Foster Care System
  • be interested in or currently attending TCC
  • have been adopted from the Virginia Foster Care System after the age of 13
  • maintain at least half-time enrollment in an eligible academic program

Want to learn more?

Students can join Great Expectations at any time by meeting with a counselor. For more information about Great Expectations at TCC, contact Branch at