Report Highlights Primary Barrier Facing Women at Community Colleges

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Report Highlights Primary Barrier Facing Women at Community Colleges
A new report from the American Association of University Women found that the primary barrier facing women in community colleges today is decreasing access to affordable childcare. What can community colleges do to remove the barrier?
Community college is often the choice for women seeking higher education. These institutions typically provide many features adult female students need, including proximity to their homes and affordable tuition rates. However, one primary barrier consistently interferes with a woman’s ability to complete her community college education, according to a recent report.
 
Primary Barrier for Student Parents: Affordable Child Care
 
The majority of student parents at community colleges today are women who are trying to juggle family, work and school responsibilities as they pursue a higher education. A new report released by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) shows that the largest obstacle facing this student demographic is access to affordable child care. Unfortunately, Raw Story reports that these findings have been released at a time when federal funding for child care is dwindling across the country.

The report, titled, “Women in Community Colleges: Access to Success,” was officially released just before Mother’s Day. The authors of the report, Andresse St. Rose and Catherine Hill, used a variety of sources as they put together their analysis. These sources included a review of community college literature, interviews with college students and leaders, and program materials from select schools. Federal data was also used to compile the report, including facts and figures from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study.
 
Significant Number of Students Impacted by Barrier
 
According to the report, the child care obstacle impacts female student parents most often. The report states, “A majority of parents report spending 30 hours or more a week on caregiving, and mothers report spending more time on caring for dependents than fathers do. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of mothers attending community college provide 30 or more hours of caregiving weekly, compared with 42 percent of fathers. Caregiving responsibilities reduce the time student parents spend on homework or studying.”
 
St. Rose told Diverse Education that women make up more than half of the 7.3 million community college students nationwide. St. Rose added that more than one million mothers that attend community colleges do so to better support their families. Unfortunately, nearly half of all the women that enter community colleges are not successful in their efforts to earn a degree or certificate, or transfer their credits to a four-year school in pursuit of a baccalaureate degree.
 
“The low success rate of women at women at community colleges deserves our attention,” St. Rose stated.
 
Child Care at the Crux of the Problem
 
The report found that child care may be the top reason why many of the women that enter community college with high aspirations fail to finish strong. Student parents without access to affordable child care often have no choice but to drop out of school when the responsibilities become too much to juggle and the money for quality child care runs out. St. Rose told Raw Story that many of the student parents are also low-income students who can barely afford their tuition, let alone additional money for child care. For those students, child care grants and access to convenient child care become an integral part of their success.
 
The Huffington Post reports that less than half of all the community colleges in the United States offer child care on their campuses. In addition, federal funding through the Campus Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) has decreased from $25 million in 2001 to $16 million in 2012. During that same time period, enrollment at community colleges has increased from 5.7 million students in 2000 to 7.1 million in 2009. More students also means increased demand in child care assistance, at the same time the availability of funds has diminished.
 
Recommendations for Success
 
In addition to identifying the primary obstacle facing parent students today, the report by the AAUW also made a number of recommendations on how community colleges could improve completion rates by improving access to affordable child care. Those recommendations include:
 
       ·      An assessment of the current child care demand on each campus, to determine whether the individual college is doing enough to address the needs of their student parents
 
       ·      Creation of a referral system that would put student parents in touch with local child care providers
 
       ·      Application for a CCAMPIS federal grant that would provide much needed funding to student parents at that individual community college
 
       ·      Designated staff members to work with student parents to help them find affordable child care and other resources to increase their odds of success
 
       ·      Creation of a support system for student parents that would include access to resources and services to help them succeed in the college environment
 
The report also urges Congress to increase CCAMPIS funding, to ensure community colleges across the country can receive enough funding to ensure student parents can remain in school until their academic goals are met.
 
The AAUW report also highlighted a program in Arkansas that helps student parents get the assistance they need to succeed in school. The Career Pathways Initiative uses funds from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to provide support to low-income students at the state’s community and technical colleges. While the program can’t provide all the resources these students require, it is a step in the right direction, and a prototype that may be used by other states to assist community college students.
 
Student parents make up a large percentage of the students on community college campuses today. By providing these struggling students with the resources they need to succeed, the student, local community and even the state’s workforce and economy may benefit.

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