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The Promise of Postsecondary Education for Parents

by Robert Drago, Ph.D.

Education, and particularly higher education, provides many individuals with hope for a better future. The power of this simple truism was brought home  to me while working on Striking a Balance, when I discovered that the union for hotel workers in San Francisco (HERE Local 2) had developed a scholarship program to fund prep courses for college admissions tests. The catch? The program was for the daughters and sons of union members, and not the members themselves. The members are mainly immigrant women, and their vision for a brighter future involves higher education for their children.

A new fact sheet from IWPR describes a related group—students who are also parents. Anyone who has been a parent knows that it is a lot of work, especially when children are young. To make a commitment to higher education at the same time is nothing short of heroic. And those who do so are not starting on a level playing field: compared to non-parent students, the student parents have lower average college admissions test scores, are less likely to have received four years of English courses in high school, and more often take remedial courses, with each of these disadvantages being most pronounced for single parents. The student parents are also likely to come from families in which their own parents had not received an advanced degree, so have fewer academic role models. And just to top it off, the student parents are around twice as likely as the non-parents to work for pay at least 40 hours per week (over 40 percent of single and married parents do this).

Not surprisingly, this story has the same gender twist found in HERE Local 2: three-quarters of single parents in college are women, and single mothers are twice as likely to report spending at least 30 hours per week caring for dependents.

I don’t envy those who take on the triple burden of parenting, school and full-time employment. But I do understand why they voluntarily make such extraordinary commitments. Like the members of HERE Local 2, higher education offers the student parents hope for a brighter future—for themselves and their children. They deserve our applause and support.

Robert Drago, Ph.D., is the Director of Research with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

IWPR’s Top Five Findings of 2010

by Jennifer Clark

1.  The recent recession was not predominantly a “mancession.”

While men represented the majority of job losses during the recession, IWPR’s research shows that single mothers were almost twice as likely as married men to be unemployed.  Another IWPR briefing paper examines how the “Great Recession” was an equal opportunity disemployer, doubling nearly every demographic group’s unemployment rate. In many families, women increasingly became the primary breadwinner, but they still spent more time in unpaid household labor than men. This imbalance of effort at home persists whether men are employed or not.

2. Only 12 percent of single mothers in poverty receive cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

In the briefing paper, “Women in Poverty During the Great Recession,” IWPR shows that the numbers of single mothers in poverty receiving TANF assistance varies in the states. In Louisiana, only four percent of single mothers in poverty have TANF assistance. While in Washington, DC, the jurisdiction where impoverished mothers have the highest enrollment, still only 40 percent of single mothers receive any cash assistance through TANF.

3. Community colleges would need to increase the supply of child care on campus at least 10-fold to meet the current needs of students.

More than one-quarter of the students at community colleges have children, yet the supply of child care on campus does not meet the current needs of students. For many student parents, community college is an avenue to better jobs that allow them to support their families. As part of IWPR’s current project on post-secondary education, IWPR released a fact sheet in June, which noted that the proportion of community colleges providing on-campus care for the children of students decreased between 2001 and 2008, despite the great need.

4.  Young women are now less likely to work in the same jobs as men.

Reversing the progress made by earlier cohorts of young women entering the labor market, younger women today are now less likely to work in traditionally male and integrated occupations, which tend to pay better than traditionally female occupations. When told that traditionally male occupations pay more, women receiving workforce training said they would choose the higher paying job. In addition, women earn less than men in all but four of 108 occupational categories including in occupations-such as nursing and teaching-where women represent the majority of workers.

5. The majority of all likely voters support paid sick days.

IWPR’s new study shows that, while 69 percent of likely voters-including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents-endorse laws to provide paid sick days, two-fifths of all private sector workers lack this benefit. IWPR’s research also shows preventing workplace contagion of communicable diseases-such as influenza or H1N1-by providing paid sick days will save employers and the US economy millions of dollars.

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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