Claiming education is an act of hope

Helping single parents achieve college degrees is good public policy. It is a two-generational approach to ending poverty as parents’ degrees translate into their children’s higher educational attainment. Single mothers who “degree-up” improve their children’s lives and their futures. They are eager and motivated by the desire to improve their communities as well, as professionals, employees, volunteers, and citizens. The qualities that enable single parents to succeed in college – tenacity, dedication, a developed work ethic, resourcefulness, and sheer courage – are prized qualities in both workplaces and communities.

Earning a college degree is difficult and time-consuming work. For student parents, and especially single parents, navigating childcare costs and unreliable transportation, low-wage work and care-giving duties, insecure housing and food, small and large emergencies adds weight and layers of stress. The strategy of keeping one’s eyes on the prize of graduation while surviving each day is the only way through.

These obstacles are the direct result of political decisions that undermine student parents’ efforts and threaten their families’ futures. Reduced education funding drives up college costs. Reduced funding for public benefits and added requirements for programs actively discourage prospective and current students. Continued governmental neglect on issues of comprehensive childcare, health insurance, and affordable housing increases the vulnerability of all families and futures. Politically motivated messages and policies targeting higher education can burst dreams and flatten aspirations. The obstacles paced in the paths of student-parent success are unnecessary and counterproductive.

Thankfully, community support and champions, scholarships and grants, student and academic services, and a number of public and non-profit programs can provide encouragement and soften the blows. Some student-parents complete their degrees; and, their families and our community are better for it. Each student-parent achievement is cause for celebration to be sure. But, for a moment, imagine what a celebration it will be when a proper level of public investment and appropriate public policy allow all student-parents to “step confidently in the direction of their dreams.”

Andrea G. Hansen

Andrea G. Hansen is program director of the Self-Sufficiency Program (SSP), Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at UW-La Crosse.

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