Community College Partnerships Promote Education and Career Development

by Jane Henrici, Ph.D.

Adults with children can face complications if they want to pursue education or career development and, while community colleges often try to make things as convenient as possible for adults, college resources may not be enough. Partnerships between community colleges and other schools, local nonprofits, private businesses, and government agencies can make a difference. Many creative ways of pulling these partnerships together have been found in different parts of the United States. One of these, highlighted by IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI) in a new fact sheet, is Carreras en Salud: Carreras is a program of the nonprofit organization Instituto del Progreso Latino in Chicago, in partnership with Chicago’s Association House, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and the city college of Wilbur Wright. This particular partnership helps low-income adults, most of them Latinas with children, successfully obtain education, training, and certification in health care fields. The affiliated organizations help student parents through different curricula and services: for example, parents taking bridge courses at Instituto del Progreso, such as English-as-a-Second-Language, receive child care. IWPR is also examining the need to improve work conditions and opportunities for in-home care workers who are immigrant women (please see our earlier blog post) and a program such as Carreras shows great promise for improving the quality of jobs in care work. Partnerships among community colleges that help student parents to complete education and career development pathways, whether in health care or other occupations, can help maximize existing resources through community coordination.

Jane Henrici, Ph.D., is a Study Director with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

STEM Report Points to a Means of Economic Security for Low-Income Women

By Margaret Kran-Annexstein

Job opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are some of the fastest-growing industries in the country yet women’s presence in STEM education at the community college level is dropping. Between 2000–2001 and 2008–2009, the number of women earning associate’s degrees in STEM fields decreased by 25.7 percent. Meanwhile, jobs in STEM fields are expected to nearly double by 2018.

A new IWPR report, Increasing Opportunities for Low-Income Women and Student Parents in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math at Community Colleges, proposes solutions for bridging this training and jobs gap for women. The report addresses obstacles faced by women in STEM fields, and how educational institutions and organizations can help women to overcome these challenges.

It is important to encourage all women, but particularly low-income women and student parents, to pursue STEM fields. STEM degrees can be a link to better economic security because they lead to jobs in fields with better pay and narrower wage gaps—a 14 percent wage gap exists in STEM jobs versus 21 percent in non-STEM jobs.

From the report:

Women at the community college level are more likely than men to enroll in educational fields and training for jobs in traditionally female occupations—such as child care workers, health aids, or administrative assistants—with low starting pay, flat wage trajectories, and poor benefits (Hegewisch et al. 2010; Negrey et al. 2001). By contrast, women who train for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields—fields typically dominated by men—see strong economic returns.

I always liked math and science in elementary and high school. However, somewhere along the way, I abandoned STEM education, just like many other women and girls. In this difficult economy, why do so many women steer away from fields that offer so many job opportunities? During the release event for the STEM report, Roberto Rodriguez, a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said that women and girls drop out or avoid STEM education because of a “lack of role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility that exists in STEM fields.”

Sara Manzano-Díaz, who also spoke at the report release event, focuses a lot of her attention on the encouragement of young girls in her role as director of the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor. She sees that “education is the great equalizer” and by becoming role models and mentors for girls, we can encourage them to pursue STEM degrees and pave their way to fulfilling careers.

The report outlines steps that community colleges could be taking in order to recruit and retain women, especially mothers who face more challenges in completing their degrees and need flexibility in their study schedules. Increasing the number of student parents studying STEM fields can have lasting effects—not only on the quality of life of a graduate once they leave school, but also on their children. According to her research, author of the report Cynthia Costello found that children whose mothers pursue postsecondary education are more likely to receive college degrees themselves.

Women have made such huge leaps in education equality and this makes their minority presence in STEM fields of study all the more shocking.

The reality that women are highly underrepresented in STEM fields is distressing because those fields are in need of skilled workers in a shifting economy. It is also a missed opportunity to incorporate diverse perspectives in a growing industry.

“We need… more girls who believe they can grow up to invent and to discover,” said Rodriguez at the release event. “Invention and discovery in engineering and science is creative act. It benefits from a multitude of viewpoint…So without diversity we are paying inherently an opportunity cost here because that’s a cost in products not built, in designs not considered, ultimately in constraints that are not understood.”

Margaret Kran-Annexstein is a Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The For-Profit College Education: A Not-So-Golden Ticket

By Jennifer Herard

Nontraditional students are often committed and motivated to pursuing postsecondary education, but confront unique challenges. The for-profit college industry has stepped in to fill the demand for education of nontraditional students, but often these schools succeed only in adding to the burdens on nontraditional students.

Nontraditional students—a term that can include those who are working part- or full-time while acquiring an education, student parents, and those who have delayed enrollment—make up a significant part of the overall student population. According to a March 2011 Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) report, nearly a quarter (3.9 million) of postsecondary students in the United States are parents—of which 57 percent are low-income. Women make up a significant portion at 78 percent of single student parents and 81 percent of low-income, single parents.

Low-income, single parents face unique challenges and needs, such as access to affordable child care. But for student parents, the hard-fought earning of a degree can provide a significant payoff in the way of increased earnings and educational outcomes for children in the family. For-profit colleges offer student parents what seems to be a golden ticket, attracting a high proportion of student parents—48 percent of students at for-profit colleges have dependent children, more than double the proportion found at public and not-for-profit institutions. However, for-profit colleges often do not provide adequate support to ensure student parent success.

As a result of a noticeable growth in enrollment, profits, and amounts of financial aid funding at for-profit colleges, Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, launched an investigation in June 2010 with a series of five hearings and a document collection to investigate the industry’s practices.

The investigation revealed that for-profit colleges hire droves of recruiters who often use misleading practices to pull in nontraditional students. Senator Harkin asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate recruiting practices and found  “[r]ecruiters are too often encouraged to hide the ball on matters of cost, transferability of credits, graduation rates, and employment and salary after graduation.”

This is only one of the findings of the investigation that raised red flags, particularly for low-income parents. According to the HELP Committee’s investigation, for-profit colleges are actually six times more expensive than community college and twice that of four-year public schools. Low-income students often take out federal loans in order to pay the exorbitant costs of for-profit colleges and then are not able to complete their program, leaving them saddled with a huge amount of debt and no degree to provide better job opportunities.

Adding to this, once students are enrolled, for-profit colleges often do not make available the support services that nontraditional students need to be successful, such as academic advisors or childcare services.

IWPR hosted a July 25th webinar titled Closing the Financial Gap for Low-Income Student Parents: The Benefits of Integrated Service Delivery on Community College Campuses. Ann Lyn Hall, Director of CNM Connect at Central New Mexico Community College and Kristina Testa-Buzzee, Director of the Family Economic Security Program at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut discussed the ways that their institutions support student parents.

Hall said that bundling services—providing two or three of support services such as public benefits screening, academic advising, and achievement coaches—allows a student to achieve his or her educational outcomes at a better rate than when services are provided in isolation. Surprisingly, student parents at Norwalk Community College reported that coaching services are more valuable to their success than financial services.

For-profit colleges are sinking money into recruitment and that is not a helpful service for student parents who already have the motivation and desire to go to college. Instead, these dedicated students need support staff, such as achievement coaches, to help in navigating the college environment.

Jennifer Herard is the Research Intern with the Student Parent Success Initiative, an Institute for Women’s Policy Research project.