For years, community college has been an excellent option for young parents pursuing their education. Community college is a sensible and attractive choice for young parents because of its low cost, proximity to their home and family, and the wide range of available programs. All of these factors play an important role for the estimated two million student parents enrolled in community colleges, who are aware of the value and importance of a degree. Today’s job market has grown increasingly competitive. By 2020, an estimated 35% of jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30% will require some college or an associate’s degree.
However, even with all of these attractive factors and incentives, young parents still face obstacles to achieving their degrees or certifications. When students are asked why they might drop out of community colleges, two of the top reasons are their work and family responsibilities and the high cost of college. These two reasons specifically apply to young parents. One study found that low-income mothers are more likely to drop out of school programs due to time and money constraints. Thousands of young parents, including our Scholars, must find a way to both support their families and afford college tuition. As a result, 80% of community college students work, and 41% of them work full-time. And two-thirds of the mothers attending community college provide 30+ hours of weekly child care. But despite many hours logged, it cannot compete with the rising cost of college. In the past 30 years, the price of a 4-year college has risen by 200%, and the price of a 2 year college has risen by 150%. With a price increase this drastic, it is increasingly difficult to afford college and support a family even when earning full-time wages. Therefore, the time constraints and the financial burdens serve as a deterrent for young parents to earning their degree. Furthermore, young people are caught in an almost impossible situation of not being able to afford college, but needing college to earn a living wage. If these young adults do not earn a college degree or certificate, they have a slim chance of earning a true living wage for themselves and their families.
A new initiative from President Barack Obama, America’s College Promise, aims to address these issues and make college affordable for hard-working students. If this initiative is passed through Congress, college opportunities will be more accessible for young parents. The initiative aims to make community college tuition free for two years. Any student who has a C+ average, attends school at least part-time, and is making “steady progress toward their degree” will qualify for free tuition. The proposal is estimated to benefit 9 million students around the country each year and could save students an average of $3,800 in tuition. This initiative will also definitely benefit the 2 million young parents, including our amazing Scholars. Without the burden of tuition, student parents can invest more of their wages in their future and their children. Instead of trying to pick up extra shifts to make ends meet, they can study harder and spend more time with their families. Without the burden of tuition, they could more easily pursue their educational and career goals. The absence of tuition cost would serve as an incentive for more young parents to attend college and create a better life for themselves and their families.
-Sara Beth Cockerham, Program Intern