Mother's Day Brings College Degree for Some Single Moms

May 06, 2010 | USA Today |  Link to article

More than once, Bailey Osborne thought about dropping out. Like the time her washing machine caught fire. And when daughter Madison was in bed for 11 days with swine flu.

That's when Osborne would look at her four kids and remind herself, yet again, that giving up on college would be a little like giving up on them.

"I knew in my heart why I couldn't just quit," says Osborne, who on Sunday will celebrate Mother's Day with a brand-new bachelor's degree. Her kids - Ashley, 26, Tyler, 25, Casey, 16, and Madison, 4-plan to be her cheering section Saturday when she graduates from Champlain College in Burlington, Vt.

Osborne, 48, says she might never have made it without Champlain's Single Parents Program, founded in 1988 on the premise that higher education is the surest ticket out of poverty.

Rising out of poverty

It seems to have made a difference. More than 500 students have earned a degree through the
program. A study for the state found that, of 4,007 households that left Vermont welfare rolls in 2003, those who then pursued a college education earned more on average and were less likely to have  returned to welfare a year later than those who didn't go on to school.

No one tracks that kind of progress on a national level. But federal data suggest more single parents are entering college. In 2008, they represented 13.4% of the nation's 18 million college students. Most were women (74%). About one-third attended for-profit institutions. They were more than twice as likely as other students (54% vs. 23%) to be eligible for Pell Grants for needy students, says the non-profit Institute for Women's Policy Research. And, as Osborne's experience suggests, low-income parents face challenges far different from their childless
peers:

  • About 1,700 colleges have day care centers for  students, parents and faculty, and many alsoprovide academic and financial support. Yet child care sometimes costs more than tuition, and federal  funding for campus centers for low-income families has dropped from $25 million in 2002 to about $16million last year.
  •  Family Care Solutions, a non-profit in Philadelphia, has awarded nearly $2 million in child care grants to low-income students since 1998 but has made no new awards recently. "The lack of funding has seriously threatened our programs," says president Sherrill Mosee. Demand is high: About 435,000 parents (most of them mothers) applied for scholarships offered since 2008 by eLearners.com, which links students to online programs. It has given 150 awards so far and wantsto give 280 this year.
  • Federal welfare laws since 1996 have emphasized jobs more than education, says Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, a policy analyst for the Center for Law and Social Policy, a non-profit advocacy group. A few states, including Maine and Kentucky, have created incentives for college-going welfare recipients. But, she says, many states are cutting services, such as tutoring and transportation, that are often critical to single parents.

Help for parents is eroding

Champlain's program, funded by state, federal and campus dollars, is no exception. Vermont recently halved its contribution; director Carol Moran-Brown says services will continue, with some changes.

Professionals in the field would like to see programs on more campuses but aren't optimistic. "I have not seen a growing interest in supporting student parents," says Karen Alsbrooks of Ohio State University, which has a program and has hosted conferences on the topic in recent years. She also is co-founder, in 2005, of Higher Education Alliance of Advocates for Students with Children.

About 25 colleges, including Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Berea College in Kentucky, are members. Each program has unique features. Some offer housing, for example, or child care. All aim to help single-parents juggle multiple responsibilities.

When her daughter's illness kept Osborne at home, for example, case manager Felicia Messuri arranged extensions on her homework. When Osborne's washer was damaged, Messuri tapped an emergency fund to replace it. Many times, Osborne says, Messuri was her "go-to person." And Single Parents  Program "is the glue that holds everything together."

 

 

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