Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Oklahoma Supporting Single Mothers Pursuing College Degrees via "SMART"

Today there are more than 25,000 single parent students attending Oklahoma colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, these are women balancing parenting, college and jobs.

SMART is an acronym for Single Mothers Academic Resource Team; SMART is committed to identifying pathways for all single parents who wish to complete a higher education in Oklahoma.

Why should this matter? There are a multitude of reasons:

~ Assisting single parents improves graduation rates for Oklahoma's colleges. This generates a multiplier effect: new college graduates with families are more likely to stay in Oklahoma and become a part of our professional workforce. Those campuses that make a multi-sector effort to be “adult-friendly” see increased enrollment because they appeal to the 31% of Oklahoma college student who are 25 or older.

~ Households led by single mothers collectively face daunting economic challenges: affordable housing, appropriate child care, health care benefits to name just a few. Many women are forced to rely on federal and state assistance programs and yet still live below the poverty threshold. In Oklahoma, nearly one in four children lives in poverty[1] and one third of all Oklahoma children are raised in homes where no adult has an education beyond high school.[2] Yet, we know that parental income level is the best predictor of a child’s educational attainment. A college education provides a family with the earning power to move out of impoverishment and off of assistance programs that costs Oklahoma taxpayers millions annually. Federal and state governments pay up to $2,000 less per year on social services for persons who have a college education.[3] Considering the nearly 30,000 single parent students in Oklahoma, we are on our way to saving $60 million dollars annually in social services.

~ Supporting single mothers as they complete their higher education goals diminishes the dismal statistics about Oklahoma women including the fact that not even 1 in 7 completes four or more years of higher education.[4] At the national level, less than 5% of single mothers graduate from college. [5]

~ A college education for single parents is not only about better jobs and increased incomes. Historically, college graduates are more active in our political processes and contribute more of their time and resources to their communities because they exhibit a greater awareness of current political and social issues, community needs and government policies that impact their lives. Overall, college graduates pay more taxes, are less likely to be imprisoned and enjoy better health and health care coverage.[6]

~ Most importantly, a parent with a college education models a legacy for their children where goal setting and academic achievement are valued. It sets a new tradition: In this family, we go to college.

SMART is the result of collaborative funding on the part of the Women’s Foundation of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE) and GEAR UP. It is seeking to identify and advocate for pathways that enable single mother students (SMS) to complete their higher education goals.

There are programs already in place at many of Oklahoma's public college campuses that assist single mother students. One of these is Project Second Chance (PSC) at Oklahoma State University – OKC Campus (See Appendix B).

PSC, housed at The Learning Center and under the direction of Karen Kruse, is the state’s longest established program to assist single parent students. This program offers a myriad of services to approximately 1,000 single parent students annually including completing financial aid forms, supporting an emergency food pantry, family-friendly campus events and a Single Parent’s Student Association. Karen secured seed money through grants and then, by demonstrating how effective her programming had been, was able to receive additional support from the campus itself.

There are many excellent ways to make a difference on our college and university campuses and many of these interventions are cost effective. Consider, for example:

· Advertising the pediatric services available at your campus health center

· Providing a basket of children’s books at academic advising offices

· Designating a portion of married/graduate student housing for single parent students

· Starting an organization for single mother students

· Providing faculty mentors for single mother students

· Adding high chairs to common eating areas

· Reviewing the hours of operation, costs and waiting lists at community child care centers

· Advertising the children’s literature available for check-out at your campus library

· Offering textbook scholarships to eligible single parents

· Providing budgeting workshops and financial education (including financial aid advisement)

· Offering a new student orientation session that is family-friendly

· Encouraging student organizations to take on service projects that meet the expressed needs of single mother students

· Hosting holiday events on campus specifically geared toward families

· Developing a graduation plan for single parents where they can visualize the milestones
they must achieve to complete their degree

Most importantly, research indicates that all Oklahoma campuses offer services for single parent students but they are not doing a good enough job marketing these resources to their student population. Each campus should consider:

~ What can we include in admissions packages?

~ Where do we need to advertise to reach single mother students?

~ What minor modifications can we make right now?

The SMART Team invites colleges across Oklahoma to join them in this statewide effort. 25,000 families are depending on you to help them achieve their college dreams.

[1] Women’s Foundation of Oklahoma, wfok.org.
[2] Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “Unrealized Health Potential: A Snapshot of Oklahoma, “ commissionhealth.org
[3] Cunningham, Alisa, “The Broader Societal Benefits of Higher Education,” Solutions for our Future. Solutionsforourfuture.org.
[4] Women’s Foundation of Oklahoma, wfok.org.
[5] National Center for Health Statistics, 2002.
[6] Cunningham.

Source. "Dr. Erin Taylor, Academic Affairs, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education?" (Paper entitled "The SMART Pathway")

1 comment:

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