For Mother's Day, Support Moms at Community College

Rows of folding chairs and tables
Rows of folding chairs and tables

This month many moms around the country are celebrating not only Mother's Day, but also their college graduation. As in other sectors of higher education, women make up the majority of students at community college -- accounting for 57 percent of the 7.3 million students enrolled in these schools. In fact, more women attend community college than attend either public or private four-year colleges as undergrads. And like women students everywhere, many community college women are striving to balance the challenging demands of work, school, and caring for children and families.

One soon-to-be-graduating mom is Cristina Garcia, who, after surviving Hurricane Katrina, overcoming addiction and becoming a single parent, decided to enroll at Collin College, a Texas community college. Cristina later transferred to a four-year institution, where she will soon earn her bachelor's degree in political science, and she has been accepted into the political science master's program at the University of Texas, Dallas. Cristina has also become the Texas deputy state director for young adults for the League of United Latin American Citizens, and she has worked to help other Hurricane Katrina survivors. The world needs more strong young women like Cristina to excel, and new research from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) aims to help them succeed.

Community colleges have led the way in serving student parents, who are often drawn to the affordability of community colleges and the convenience of going to school close to their homes and families. Being close to home is especially important to women who are often the primary caregivers to young children. But more than half of community colleges nationwide do not offer child care, and a lack of affordable child care is one of the main reasons student parents drop out of school. According to a federal survey, 45 percent of women who enrolled in community college in 2003 had dropped out without a degree or certificate six years later.

One of the promising practices highlighted in AAUW's new report is Arkansas' Career Pathways Initiative (CPI), which uses Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to support low-income parents enrolled at community or technical colleges. Nine out of 10 CPI participants are mothers, and the program helps them find and pay for child care while they are enrolled. This assistance has lowered the dropout rate to about 25 percent for CPI participants who enrolled in fall 2010, compared with a 40 percent overall dropout rate for the state's two-year public college students. Despite these promising results, the program caps benefits at $1,500 per student for up to 18 months to serve as many students as possible from a large pool of applicants. Nevertheless, the Arkansas CPI program is a step in the right direction and offers strategies for other states that want to educate their workforce but are faced with limited resources.

AAUW is calling on Congress to expand funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, which is the primary source of federal funding for campus child care. Unfortunately, CCAMPIS funding has dropped by about 36 percent since 2001, leaving many schools without the resources they need to provide child care.

Studies have shown that a mother's education level is an important factor in the educational success and health of her children and that supporting mothers' educational achievement ultimately benefits our communities. Cristina Garcia and the Arkansas CPI program understand this, and it's time that Congress does, too.