Why Higher Education Is A Must For Low-income Mothers

women in college class
Deborah Muscari, at right, teaches a GED class at Del Mar High School Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is getting pressure from members of his own party to spend some of the state’s surplus on welfare, health care, child care and other social programs to assist those who are missing out on the economic recovery. California is currently enjoying an influx of tax revenue but Brown is expected to release a budget proposal Friday that emphasizes restraint and savings for a rainy day. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

More than ever a college degree divides the haves and have-nots in American society. College graduates earn wages 56% higher than those of high school graduates, according to recent data from the Economic Policy Institute. Equally important, employment stability increases with a college degree. A 2017 Report found that following the 2008 recession over 95% of renewed employment went to workers who were college educated. By 2020 at least two-thirds of all jobs in the United States will require a level of education beyond high school – widening the already considerable income gap between those with and without such educational attainments. People without degrees will fall further behind, especially low-income mothers and their families.

Low-Income Mothers in the Labor Market

For decades, low-income mothers have found themselves restricted to chasing opportunities in the low-wage labor market, which offers insufficient wages and few opportunities for advancement to workers and their families. In the United States, children living in poverty or just above the poverty line suffer as much because of low wages earned by their parents as because of any lack of jobs.

And why are so many of America’s low-income mothers stuck in dead end jobs? That fact can be traced not just to blind economic forces, to expanding low-wage jobs, but also to intentional policy choices. Congress’s enactment of “welfare reform” in 1996 explicitly discouraged states from offering poor mothers chances to pursue post-secondary education. The new law called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) called for “work first,” requiring states to push poor mothers into immediate employment. Impoverished female heads of households, among the most vulnerable in our country, were suddenly told to “become self-sufficient” – and were prodded to do that without access to the college ladder. This work first drive ignored decades of research showing that college attainments – not low-wage jobs – are the best route out of poverty.

Despite this history and the obstacles they face in the current U.S. welfare system, millions of low-income mothers are tenaciously trying to complete a degree and escape poverty. Over the past 10 years, the number of student parents has increased by more than 30%. A 2017 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that nearly five million undergraduate students, a quarter of all undergraduates, are parents of dependent children – and more than seven in ten of these are women. In fact, about 43% of the total student-parent population consists of single mothers. But the road to degrees is difficult. Try as they may, only a little more than a quarter of single parents in college are able to complete their degree within six years of enrollment. They graduate at less than half the rate of other students.

A Model for Providing Services to Students with Children

Recognizing the growing importance of helping student parents continue and finish their studies, some universities have established programs to meet the specific needs of this population – much as they have for veterans, international students and students of color. One leading model of support is the program called Services for Students with Children at Portland State University. This program provides counseling, childcare subsidies, lactation rooms, family-friendly study space and a place where student parents can connect with one another as they juggle complicated lives.

In a 2016 interview at Portland State, a 35-year old mom said the program “made all the difference between giving up and keeping on.” Other parents in the program talked about how the climb to graduation is much steeper if you are bringing children along. At the same time, though, some say children are “what keeps me going” as the interviewers heard again and again. Student-parents question why state policies are still focused on pushing mothers into “lousy jobs” rather than supporting efforts “to try to build your future” (as one mother of two put it). Support really matters. As a 28-year-old student confided, “There is no way I will ever be able to support my daughter if I don’t get this degree” yet she was taking the next semester off, because “I’m in debt now, I can’t borrow anymore and I can’t pay for childcare.” Interruptions like this often lead student-parents to drop out.

Lisa Wittorff, the director of the Services for Students with Children program, has watched hundreds of student-parents struggle to graduate: “I see parents who are doing everything possible. They are running from classes to daycare, to jobs and back to the library. At the very least states could count college effort as work effort – and provide fulltime childcare support.” Yet recent research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reveals that funding for day care centers has declined since 2002 at universities and community colleges. “It makes no sense,” Shanda a thirty-four year old mother declared after losing childcare support. “This is my fourth try going back (to get a college degree). I want my sons to see that you can succeed. But if I don’t have a safe place to leave them, how am I supposed to show them that?”

Supporting Mothers in College Builds Social Equity 

A college education is the surest pathway out of poverty, especially as the demand for a more educated workforce accelerates. Of equal value to American society, attending college gives low-income students the chance to explore and develop their talents and interests, helping them set a positive example for their children and pass on new connections and skills.

Yet these valuable effects are not possible unless poor parents who undertake college studies can gain access to reliable family support services. Childcare and income supplements to pay costs of housing and food are essential to the success of these doubly burdened student parents. Providing the necessary supports is a short-term cost to society, but this kind of social investment stretches far into the future. Beyond providing immediate help to individual students and their families, supporting poor students who study for a better future builds a more educated and equitable nation for all Americans.

Want to Graduate Sooner? Find a Great Advisor

Credit: ​​Photo courtesy of CSU Chico​​​

Most college students juggle a lot: studying, getting to and from class, and, for many at the CSU, working and meeting other obligations. So it can feel like the last straw to hear that you should find and check in with an academic advisor regularly.

But if you take the time to seek out someone to guide you in choosing courses and ensure you’re on the path to graduate according to your goals, you’ll be likelier to earn your degree in less time, saving money and launching you into your career sooner.

That’s why many California State University campuses have put in place easy-to-access, interactive programs designed to make advising much simpler. Even better, many are customized to meet the specific needs and academic goals of each student. (Some CSU campuses are in the planning stages of adding these resources, so they may not have made it just yet to your school.)

The advancements are tied to the CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025, which focuses on increasing graduation rates for all students while eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps.

What is ‘Intensive Advising’?

Referred to as “intensive advising,” students and their advisors — which now includes faculty, staff and peer mentors on many campuses, as well as formal academic advisors — work together to form a powerful partnership.

“[Intensive advising] involves intentional, one-on-one contact with students,” explains ​Karen R. Moranski, Ph.D., associate vice president for Academic Programs at Sonoma State University.

“Its goal is to create a positive relationship with an advisor that leads to increased academic success and persistence. It is also preventative, in that it anticipates issues that may keep students from graduating.”

In specific, advisors and student success centers on the campuses work closely with each student to set goals, evaluate progress over time and ensure the goals are being met or intervening to offer support if they’re not.

Ideally, the partnership of student and advisor begins as soon as a student arrives on campus, whether as a first-time freshman or a transfer student from a community college or another university.

Online dashboards and planners will also help students stay accountable for their own success.

“The development and usage of these technology-based advising tools have brought a culture shift in both the advising and student communities,” says S. Terri Gomez, Ph.D, interim associate vice president for Student Success at Cal Poly Pomona. She adds that advisors use data to refine how best to work with students, while students can easily access and use the technologies, making it simple to integrate academic tracking into their busy schedules.

The Link to Student Success

When academic advisors leverage technology and students find it easy to use, the benefits can be significant, according to early findings from CSU campuses.

Here are three specific ways having an advisor (or an advising team) to guide students in planning classes, finding tutoring or other help when necessary, and learning how to better track their progress could be a game-changer for increasing graduation rates. Most CSU campuses have developed specific advising programs aimed at helping students navigate college. Below are just a few examples of some of the programs available.

  • ​Students are aware of how they’re tracking toward graduation 24/7. Online advising resources allow students to access their profile whenever and wherever they want, so they can always check their progress toward their degree, plan course schedules in advance, and enroll in classes. Sonoma State, for example, launched the Seawolf Scheduler and Degree Planner as part of its E-Advising Initiative. Cal Poly Pomona recently invested in redesigning its student success dashboards with Tableau, an accessible, responsive data analysis and visualization tool that’s part of its MyPlanner student success portal. And CSU East Bay has introduced The Bay Advisor.Dynamic, live tracking systems and dashboards allow faculty, administrators and advisors not only to see how their students are doing, but the data collected will make it easier to predict how successful these “intrusive” advising strategies really are in keeping students on the road to picking up their degree.
  • Struggling students are caught earlier. Early alert systems, which will be implemented on CSU campuses such as Cal Poly Pomona, CSU East Bay,  CSU Fullerton, and CSU San Bernardino, are able to identify students who are having trouble academically, who haven’t signed up for classes, or who show signs of academic setback, such as low grades or poor class attendance.Retention specialists — staff who help ensure students stay enrolled and moving toward their degree — are being added to teams throughout the CSU to identify and assist students at risk of dropping out of college. Other campuses require students to provide detailed plans of their coursework schedule as they near graduation.A student doesn’t need to be at risk of failing or dropping out, though, for an advising team to get an alert. An advisor might simply contact a student approaching graduation to assist and eliminate obstacles as early as possible.
  • Advisors create a personalized plan for every student. No two students’ college experiences are the same. That’s why a number of CSU campuses have implemented “student success teams” that provide a tailored advising experience.The teams are made up of academic, peer, and professional advisors, along with career services counselors and graduation and retention specialists. Students who haven’t declared their major may be required by some campuses to enroll in specialized advising efforts – such as meeting regularly with advisors who track their progress – to ensure they ​aren’t left behind. ​

Efforts to bolster and improve advising are ongoing across CSU campuses. Sonoma State will launch the Center for Transfer and Transition Programs in fall 2017; it will provide personalized advising, mentoring, social support, and other resources for transfer students, with the goal of eliminating the opportunity gap.

This fall, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s College of Engineering will launch a proactive advising model that will specifically target underrepresented, first-generation, and Pell-eligible students. The campus hopes to scale the model to all of its colleges by 2019.

These existing and forthcoming advising services encourage students to set and meet their academic goals, ensuring success throughout their time at the CSU.

Learn more about Graduation Initiative 2025 and the ways in which the CSU is working to close the equity gap for underserved students. ​

Educators Must Reach Out to Minority Students to Close Education Gaps


More students are graduating high school than ever before, with recent studies suggesting that 82 percent of high school seniors during the 2013-2014 school year earned their diploma. Subsequently, college going rates have also increased across the board, which helps to fulfill a primary goal of President Obama’s educational platform.

Although colleges and universities have increased graduation rates on the whole over the past decade, many have failed to make a real dent when it comes to college achievement gaps between white students and minorities.

A December 2015 study from The Education Trust shows minority graduation rates have increased by less than one percentage point, up to 50 percent, over the past ten years. White students, in comparison, have a graduation rate of 64 percent.  

This is a statistic educational leaders should be cognizant of, as it’s become clear that low-income and otherwise disenfranchised minority students are not receiving adequate support to enroll in and, subsequently graduate from college.

“We caution institutional leaders who celebrate their graduation rate gains to take a good look at their data and ask whether they are doing enough to get more African-American, Latino, and Native students to graduation and to close completion gaps,” higher education policy analyst Kimberlee Eberle-Sudre tells US News.

Equally concerning was The Education Trust’s findings that 17 colleges across the country had declining graduation rates for minority students over the ten year study. At the University of Central Arkansas, for example, the graduation rate for minority students had decreased by over 10 percentage points, despite the fact that graduation rates for white students had increased.

Similarly, a University of Arizona study titled “Arizona in Transformation: Arizona Minority Student Progress Report 2013” noted that fewer than one in 10 minority graduates of Arizona high schools are “college ready,” citing that “less than 50 percent of the state’s high school students complete the 16 core courses required for admission to the state’s three public universities.”

It’s clear that there needs to be a radical shift when it comes to preparing minority students for a successful college career, and solutions need to be adopted both at the high school and college level.

The University of Arizona study highly recommends that public school teachers be better trained to meet the cultural needs of minority students, especially those learning English as a Second Language.

Other research compiled by Wake Forest University suggests that school districts employ an additional number of high school counselors in order to help more students prepare themselves for college enrollment–nothing that college-going rates increase by nearly ten percent with the presence of at least one additional counselor per high school.  

Universities wishing to increase the number of minority students enrolled ought look to institutions with a good track record of innovating their school platforms in order to attract and meet the needs of minority students.

Under the leadership of President Michael Crow, Arizona State University has become one of the most innovative schools in the nation. In a recent partnership with Starbucks, ASU has ensured that qualified students working full time have access to free education–a plus for minority students who must work full time in order to attend school.

Additionally, the school implemented a Global Freshman Academy, which allows students to immerse themselves in the college experience before even applying or paying for school, allowing first generation college students the opportunity to experience college firsthand. Under the guidance of Crow, minority enrollment at the university has increased by over 62 percent. This year, minority enrollment at the school was at 50 percent.

“Leading institutions have shown how leaders can change the culture of their campus to focus on student success,” Andrew Nichols, of the Education Trust notes. “Leading institutions have shown how leaders can change the culture of their campus to focus on student success.”

Increasing minority enrollment and graduation rates in college is a multi-tiered process, where both high schools and higher education institutions must make systemic changes in order to get students in the door, and provide enough support to keep them in their doors. In an economy that is rapidly relying on college graduates to fill important gaps in a number of fields, engaging with minority communities is integral to the success of the American workforce.

Ten Tips for Wrapping Up Your Internship!

Many college students are finally ending their academic years and semesters. Classes always seems so long, but at the same time, time flies! Since the semester is ending, internships are coming to a close as well. It can be a sad situation, as many students love their internships. On the other hand, it may be a nice relief for the students who did not care for their position. Regardless of interest, it is important for all students to make sure they end the internship in good standing. An internship can provide references and connections for students in their later career endeavors. A good student always makes sure that they have wrap up everything at their internship and maintain a great relationship.

career-opportunitiesHere are ten tips to help you interns finish your experiences:

1.Finish any projects/assignments. This is self-explanatory, but make sure you complete everything you were assigned. The completion of your hours is not an excuse for incomplete work. Your contribution to the agency may be really important, and you do want to be the intern who leaves incomplete work for the agency.

2.Set a final date with your supervisor. Another self-explanatory tip, but it is important. Some schools have hours requirements for credit, and some students think they can just peace out once their hours are completed. This is not true. Sit down with your supervisor and figure out an exact date that works for both of you, before you plan to leave.

3.Ask about other agency opportunities. If you are about to graduate, it would not hurt to ask about jobs with the agency, full-time, part-time, seasonal. You already have an understanding and connection to the agency, which may make the transition a lot easier. Also, internships can be long interviews! Many interns get hired after their position, so make sure you ask about sticking around to let them know you are interested!

4.Offer to train the new intern(s). For those of you at agencies where interns overlap, offer to help train the next intern. You obviously can give the new intern a great perspective and prepare them for a great internship experience. You have an insight your supervisor does not have, and you can maybe help them avoid any mistakes or ensure they do things a certain way. This always shows your supervisor that you care about the agency, and they may connect you to future opportunities.

5.Thank your supervisor and other colleagues. An internship is a great experience, and it takes work to plan and hire an intern. Make sure you thank your supervisor and anyone else you worked with before you leave. A nice thank you card is good way to show you a thankful for the opportunity they gave you.

6.Be sure to leave your contact information. You probably won’t be keeping the email address they made for you, so make sure you leave an updated email address they can contact you. Make sure it is professional obviously. Also, seniors and graduates, ensure that your email address is not your school one, because you may lose it once you graduate.

7.Connect with them on LinkedIn. If you haven’t already, add people in the agency on LinkedIn, while they remember you! You don’t want to wait a few months or years, and have them try to remember you. If you add them right away, then they can endorse your for some skills or write a recommendation for you while your performance is still fresh in their head.

8.Update your resume/LinkedIn. Before you leave, update your resume and professional profiles with everything you completed. Have your supervisor look at it, and help with the wording. You want to make sure you encompass your whole experience before you forget and move on to the next opportunity.

9.Sign up on the volunteer list. This applies mainly to my nonprofit folks. If you agency uses volunteers in any capacity, sign up to be one. Staying connected to the agency can only help you later on in life. I interned at an agency in the fall, stayed connected through the spring via volunteering, and was offered a job once I graduated. Do extra things to stay noticed and they will remember you.

10.Stay in touch. Again, staying in touch can only help you. Before you leave, ask if it is alright for you to stay in touch with them, and then ask what is the best way to contact them. This will prove that you plan to stay in touch. Remember connections could lead to many things!

Internships are the most important experiences for students to figure out their career development goals. Make sure you optimize your experience, and take advantage of the future opportunities that could come. Just because you end an internship, does not mean it cannot benefit you later down the road. Social work students should especially be doing this, since many of us spend a whole year as an intern. We receive quality experience, and our supervisors did a lot for us. Make sure you do as much for them, and put yourself in a situation for them to believe you are going to be a great social worker. Be a superstar intern, and make them remember you!

Successful Strategies to Help Students Prepare for Job Searching After Graduation

As graduation approaches, many students are contemplating about the next step.  Both graduates and undergraduates are on their way through the job process searching for various post-graduation opportunities. As many know, finding a job does not just instantly happen and finding a job you actually want can be a miracle. For us younger professionals, it may seem impossible to find a full-time position and we may feel discourage approaching the work force. Part of the reasons for this are societal factors that we cannot control, but students can decrease the stress that may arise from graduating and open multiple doors.

images (35)While we are preparing ourselves for the next step after college or graduate school, the weird thing is that many students just sit back and relax thinking everything is going to work out for them. It is very frustrating when students think that once they graduate, opportunities are going to come right to them. This is not reality. The real world is competitive but vast, and all you have to do is go out and look. You have to prove to your community and yourself that you are a professional and capable of the job you want to get.

Here are a few easy things to do that every student can do that make their professional development grow:

Challenge yourself at your internship. I am tired of hearing students saying they do nothing at their internship or it is too easy. You have the ability to do more opportunities. Evaluate your current responsibilities and speak with your supervisor about doing more things. Meet with other people in the agency and ask them for help. Helping out the agency in ways they need shows you are willing to work and contribute to the success of the agency, not just yourself. Internships are not only learning experiences, but crucial to professional development.

Network! Network! Network! The majority of jobs are found through networking! People hire people they like, and people connect people they like. The more people who like you, the more people who can help you. Meet as many people as you can at your internship. Just Go to events, meet people at programs, conduct informational interviews! Network! Many of the social workers I have met, have not been the greatest at networking. Starting to network as a current student is a great way to practice, develop professional skills, and build connections for future opportunities.

Find a Mentor! Having a mentor is probably the greatest thing you could ever do. I have a mentor right now, and he is awesome. We get to talk about our interested fields and connect with each other on a professional and personal level. Find a mentorship program to participate in, connect with alumni from your school, or reach out to people in the desired career industry. Having someone with experience who will then offer advice or advocate for you, is definitely a resource you want to have. You never know who they know or what they can do for you later on.

Join a Local Chapter of Professional Organization!  This is really surprising because many students do not realize the opportunities from joining a relevant professional organization. The main reason why you should join is: They want younger people involved! They are established professionals in your field who can give you advice, trainings, connections, and maybe even a job. I think it would be smart as a student to connect with people in your field who can connect you with a job after graduation. Reach out the a local chapter of a professional organization related to your career interests. You definitely should be involved!

Attend trainings! There are tons of trainings out there for professional development and opportunities to learn more than you can in school. There are two main benefits from attending them: you get information you can put on your resume or apply the material to a current position AND you get to meet people in your profession. It’s a win win! Go learn and network!

Volunteer for LOCAL organizations! Students sometimes get in that bubble of their college and do not branch out into the local community. Volunteer with local community members. Help out at a special event. It shows you care more than yourself. Many of you intern for nonprofit organizations, and volunteering for the fundraising department or any needed areas could put you in a great position with the agency.  A great position that could lead to a job. Plus, you meet more people and more opportunities arise! (Hint: if you didn’t get the points about meeting people, then I am telling you right now. It’s important!)

All these tips are good strategies social work students can be doing to build our career development. We students are going to be the leaders of the future, and we need to develop our professional profile. Even doing one of these tips, can give you an advantage to either get a job or obtain better opportunities. Even though a Master of Social Work degree is a professional degree, the education forgets about professional development. We need to prove right away that we are capable of performing the tasking jobs we are preparing to have.

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