New efforts to help women succeed

From a new initiative by former second lady Jill Biden, to a proposed pilot program in New York announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, efforts to help adult women learners at community colleges succeed is very much on the minds of several key education advocates.

On Wednesday, former second lady (and community college English professor) Jill Biden announced an initiative to help adult women learners — including parents — who are attending community college succeed and complete certificates and degrees on time. The initiative, called Community College Women Succeed, is a partnerships between the Biden Foundation and Achieving the Dream (ATD), during whose annual national meeting Biden announced the new effort. The initiative will promote promising practices and innovative programs regarding adult women’s retention in community colleges.

According to ATD, the partnership will:

-Host regional roundtables
-Review research and identify retention trends
-Publish a white paper to highlight the need to support women students and innovative programs
-Partner with various stakeholders to create resources

A growing need

More single mothers are attending college, with most of them going to community college, according to a 2017 Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The number of single mothers in college more than doubled between 1999 and 2012, according to IWPR, with the largest share of them — 44 percent — enrolled in community colleges. Among women in community college, 21 percent are single mothers, compared to 7 percent of women in four-year institutions.

Despite the good news, the report added that single mothers still face many challenges and have low rates of college-degree attainment. Four in 10 women at two-year colleges say that they are likely or very likely to drop out of school due to their dependent care obligations.

On Thursday, Cuomo announced a proposal to launch the Family Empowerment Community College Pilot Program to support annually up to 400 single parents, particularly women, who attend SUNY and CUNY community colleges. Participants in the three-year program would receive on-campus child care, personalized advisement and educational supports, including tutoring, career counseling and assistance in transitioning to a four-year school.

State officials said the proposed program, which is included in Cuomo’s state budget plan as well as his 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda, aims to improve on equity and economics by closing the gender wage gap through higher education.

“Access to child care can make all the difference in the life of a single parent who often has to choose between going to classes or caring for their children,” Cuomo said.

Overcoming a hurdle

More than 4.8 million undergraduate students in the United States are parents, and many of them are enrolled at community colleges. In fact, 17 percent of community college students are single parents. A lack of affordable child care can lead some students to drop out.

In New York, a study of single mothers at Monroe Community College found that student parents who used the campus child care center had an on-time graduation rate that was more than three times higher than those who did not use campus child care.

Education and women’s advocates lauded the governor’s plan.

“It is a recognition that life circumstances can have a major impact on the ability of many community college women to earn their degrees and pursue careers with choices, opportunities and living wages,” CUNY Interim Chancellor Vita Rabinowitz said in a statement. “Based on research evidence, we are optimistic that this pilot program will demonstrate an effective way to help diminish the wage gap and advance New York women.”

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.