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There are nearly 4 million undergraduate students who are raising children, representing 22 percent of all students attending U.S. colleges. Yet only about 8 percent of single mothers in college will obtain associate's or bachelor's degrees within six years, while half of women without children finish their college programs in the same time frame. NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker reports.
The college years are often thought of as a time of freedom and exploration, a time to try things out you may never get the chance to do again. But for nearly 4 million undergraduates who are not only going to class but also raising children, it can be a struggle. You may be surprised to learn they make up 22% of all undergraduates, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research. But one California college may have come up with the solution to that challenge. NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker has our story.
For Amber Angel's schedule to work, her juggling act between school, work and her kids, has to be precise.
You know, waking up really early, getting myself ready, waking up my daughters, , breakfast, getting them off to school. And then I get to work. And then it's picking them up from their after school care and– and then we're off rushing home. We sit and do our homework together. I'm currently finishing my last paper. And then dinner– reading, bath, bed.
And then do it all over again?
Do it all over again.
But today is a day for going off script. After years squeezing morning and night class between part-time jobs and countless trips to and from day care and after school programs – the 31-year-old single-mom of two daughters is in line to pick out her cap and gown for her college graduation.
I'm the youngest of eight. And I'm the first in my entire family to step foot on a college campus. I mean, I grew up with not having anybody go to college. And so if you grow up, or you see people around you that never look like you do something like this, you don't ever see it for yourself.
To describe Angel's path to her bachelors's degree as a journey driven by grit and determination would be an understatement. But she says it actually started unexpectedly – when her first daughter was just two years old.
I was working at Baby Gap, 'cause I got a really good discount on clothes (LAUGH), and– just kinda making ends meet. And then I realized I need to do something with my life to provide for my daughter. And just by accident, I passed Valley College and pulled in. This was eight and a half years ago. . My daughter was two. We actually enrolled together. She started at the child development center. And then I started my first class that same day.
As an enrolled student in the Los Angeles Valley College, a two-year public college in the San Fernando Valley, Angel was able to send her daughter to the on campus licensed childcare facility – for free. What she didn't know at the time, was this was only part of what was on offer for parents attending LA Valley College, and the other part, would play a pivotal role in getting Amber to where she is today – helping her stay in school when she gave birth to her second child..
I came back when my daughter was 13 days old. And Marni Roosevelt, who's the director of the Family Resource Center, was one of my professors. And so Marni approached me and said, We have a lactation room with a refrigerator for your breastmilk. We have parenting playgroups where you can come with her, and meet with a therapist," and this whole program for student parents.
In a little building just behind where she dropped off her daughter sits the Family Resource Center. The only such center on a community college campus in California, it offers student-parents everything from diapers to family counseling
Everything that we do, we do it within the lens of the whole family.
Started by Marni Roosevelt 20 years ago, the center supports nearly 1,000 LA Valley college student families each year.
A lot of us had our hands held to get through the system. To figure out college. To figure out work. To figure out how to parent. And a lot of our students don't really have that.
Initially functioning as a place for student parents to meet, the center now offers parent and child playgroups, kid friendly study lounges, tutoring, academic counseling, a free children's clothing exchange and free organic produce. The center staff includes – a marriage family therapist and a social worker who works with the students to connect them to ongoing college and community support services. To take advantage of the services, parents must be enrolled at LA Valley College and have a child under the age of 18 living in the home.
The childcare was a huge piece. I would've never made it to school and started here had I not had it. But one of the things, I think, that's unique is that there's so much more than just that. Right? I didn't know that I was gonna have to do group work. I didn't know I was gonna have to come back to campus after I left. Going to study at a library is really hard with a two year old. And– that's one of the things the Family Resource Center kinda offered that I didn't have previously. But the biggest is that I met other parents. Like, when I'd come to study, and I'd sit in the computer lab, I met other moms.
We know that student-parents are really parents first. They're really parent-students. And that the second that something happens within their family, that means they have to stop going to school. They have to choose between family or school, they're gonna choose family. So we know that the only way to support the student is also to support their kids.
And the approach has been effective. Eighty percent of LA Valley College students who use the family resource center successfully complete their semester – For the rest on campus, the completion rate is 69%.
Lindsey Reichlin Cruse:
Something as comprehensive as the Family Resource Center, that has– a licensed social worker– a marital– and family therapist on staff, that's very unique.
Lindsey Reichlin Cruse is a Study Director with IWPR – the Institute for Women's Policy Research based in Washington, D.C. Reichlen Cruse says- despite the rarity, the need for more robust support for student-parents is acute.
Parents make up a larger share of the undergraduate student population than anybody really realizes.
Her research shows that a little over 1 in 5 college students are raising children. For black women in college, it's 2 in 5, and in the for-profit school sector its is much higher – an estimated 45% of students are parents. But in a 2018 study Reichlin Cruse found only 8% of single mothers are completing their degree within a 6 year period. For women with no kids, the completion rate is 49%.
The investment that single mothers make in their college education more than pays off in the returns– once they graduate. So for associate's degrees, it's about $16.50 to one. So for every dollar– a single mother invests in college, she gets $16.50 back over her lifetime. And o– and over that lifetime, that adds up to around $330,000 more than she would have made with only a high school diploma.
With those extra earnings, Reichlin Cruse says single-mothers will be less likely to need public assistance – and will pay more into the tax system.
There are significant tax contributions, to the tune of– nearly $8 billion– over the lifetime of all the single mothers expected to graduate with a degree. And public assistance savings would be in excess of $310 million, just in the four years after they graduate.
So the whole– the whole group of single moms just four years after they've completed the degree, the federal government would save $310 million?
In public assistance savings, yes.
While LA Valley College's Family Resource Center is an outlier, there are efforts to expand support for student-parents elsewhere. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a new pilot program that would provide child care and support services for single-parents attending the state and city university system – known as SUNY and CUNY. And in 2018 the federal government tripled the budget for its Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program. The funds are used to establish campus-based child care programs primarily for low-income students. Still, services like those the Family Resources Center provides are expensive. Who pays for all this? Does this result in higher tuition costs for all students? And the non-parent-students as well?
There's no categorical funding for these kinds of services on campus. I write grants and solicit donations from– private philanthropy. And we have some community people who are very– wonderful patrons of what we do. But basically, I cobble money together.right now, we're in pretty good shape, but it changes. It changes from year-to-year
We need to institutionalize Family Resource Centers and we need to make sure they– they're in the budget. We need to find permanent funding, permanent ongoing funding.
Andra Hoffman is Vice President of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees – the board oversees the $5.8 billion budget of its 9 community colleges — including L.A. Valley. But for Hoffman the argument isn't just about budgetary policy, its personal. Nearly 22 years ago when she 35 and a single-mom of two kids – she herself was returning to school and was a student at LA Valley College trying to finish her degree.
I lived this life. You know, I tried to make ends meet. 00:08:54;16 I would take a class here and there when I could, when I could fit it in after work. But oftentimes by the end of the week I– I had no money left. And I would hope that somebody would invite me over– for dinner. The Family Resource Center would've changed my life and made it a whole lot easier for me to get through school.
Hoffman says from the time she first enrolled in college to when she finished, it took her 22 years to complete her bachelors degree. For Amber Angel, it was 8. After she completed her associates degree at LA Valley College, she was hired by the Family Resource Center. She transferred her credits to California State University Northridge – where tomorrow, May 20th – she will graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Science – majoring in family studies.
It's emotional, it's really exciting. It feels like, it feels like, the representation of everything I have done has mattered.
8 years is a long time and you did it.
8 years is a really long time and I did it. It's really exciting. Like I am so excited to go pick up my girls.
Watch the Full Episode
Christopher Booker is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend covering music, culture, our changing economy and news of the cool and weird. He also teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, following his work with Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in Chicago and Doha, Qatar.
Mori Rothman has produced stories on a variety of subjects ranging from women’s rights in Saudi Arabia to rural depopulation in Kansas. Mori previously worked as a producer and writer at ABC News and as a production assistant on the CNN show Erin Burnett Outfront.
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