Women’s Fund Leadership Breakfast
Remarks by Laura Douglas
October 25, 2017
Thank you for letting me make a few remarks this morning. I am delighted to attend this Women’s Fund Leadership Breakfast and want to commend the Women’s Fund in advancing the educational attainment and economic security of women and girls in Southeastern Massachusetts.
One of the reasons that I love community college leadership, is that we have the chance to change lives every single day. Community colleges are a great democracy and we do so much to advance the status of women.
At Bristol Community College, the typical BCC student is a woman in her mid to upper 20’s. Many have children, and many are single moms. Why do they come to BCC? Because they are tired of one dead end job after another, and they know that they need higher education in order to support their children. They start with great determination and display enormous amounts of grit. But it is not easy for them be successful when they have little financial support, or when their families criticize them for wanting to be college educated. And the worst is when husbands or boyfriends, who feel threatened by the educational success of their partners, try to sabotage them in an effort to prevent them from graduating. It happens more than you could ever imagine.
At BCC more than 60% of our students are women. Many are parents and most work in addition to their studies. Many report being housing and food insecure. The sacrifices are very real. As community college educators we take this into consideration and try to develop services and provide supports to help them with their needs outside of college. The costs of attaining a college degree are higher for single moms because they not only take care of themselves, they require childcare in order to be able to study. Federal financial aid, which may cover costs related to tuition, fees, books and transportation, does not include the cost of childcare. You see, our single moms are not the traditional students most policy-makers envision when they make decisions about higher education.
Like other financially independent students, single mom parents often take breaks or stop out of college when they need to earn money to support their families. And then it takes longer to finish a college degree.
14% of Bristol County residents do not have a high school degree. We need to start by ensuring that all women graduate high school. The data is very clear. Without a high school diploma or equivalency, there is little movement out of poverty. In addition, some recent research that one of my colleagues was doing out of Iowa State University showed that if a mother dropped out of high school, her daughters were likely to drop out of high school as well. The research shows that having a parent who did not complete high school, living in a single-parent household, and living in poverty all contribute to the lowest educational outcomes.
Most undergraduate students in the United States are women. Women make up the majority of students in all sectors of higher education, including community colleges. Twenty-six percent of undergraduate college students have children. Because of community colleges’ proximity to where they live, their low cost, and wide array of courses, they are popular with single parents.
Though single mothers comprise a significant segment of community college populations, we often struggle to find—and fund—the right supports to serve them. This is what we know works:
Providing safe, affordable housing near campus.
Providing financial aid for part-time study and summer classes, as well as scholarships.
Better, affordable and convenient childcare, preferably on campus.
Assistance with SNAP or TANF
Academic advising that focuses on the importance of choosing an economically viable career.
Scaffolding of key student support services—tutoring, workshops, and mentoring.
Proactive advising that anticipates the challenges that single mothers face though out their academic careers.
Financial advising to help moms manage the money they earn and make good financial decisions.
I am proud that at Bristol Community College we provide financial aid for part time students and the summer term. I’m proud that we provide childcare. We provide solid, proactive academic advising, as well as tutoring and student services. But we need to do more. I have challenged my team to bring SNAP benefit screening to the college. We need to rethink our financial aid role to include financial planning. And we need to get our women interested in STEM careers. We will make progress.
A two year degree increases earnings by 25 to 35% during a woman’s lifetime. In Massachusetts, the median salary for a graduate of a community college is $67,000. How do we end the cycle of poverty and enable women and their families to be self-sufficient? Higher education. Encourage a woman you know to come to BCC, where we, like so many other community colleges, provide great options for women to advance their careers.
Thank you again for having me and I look forward to an exciting morning with you.