Report calls for more supports for female college students

news_education_greenBy Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

Nearly a third of female community college students in Mississippi also are raising a child, according to a recently released survey.

The Women’s Foundation of Mississippi commissioned the online survey of the state’s female community college students in order to better understand their needs and circumstances. It was conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which received 544 responses from 13 of the state’s 15 community colleges.

Read full survey

“We recognized that Mississippi has one of the lowest post-secondary completion rates in the country,” said Jamie Bardwell, deputy director of the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi. “We also realize that women in community colleges in particular are often student parents, and we know women with kids in school have unique challenges and unique situations.

“…We have been using this report as a jumping-off point to talk to community colleges and policymakers about different decisions they can make that would increase the completion rate of women with kids in particular.”

The number of students raising children is significant because it presents another challenge to them finishing their education. About half of respondents with children also reported they had taken time off of school.

When those participants were asked the reason for their time off, 43 percent listed “financial considerations” and 38 percent said “became pregnant and/or had a baby.” About a quarter cited “insufficient child care.”

“This is directly connected to the quality of life we have,” Bardwell said, noting that the more residents Mississippi has with post-secondary degrees, the more employers it will attract.

“The more jobs in Mississippi that are higher wage, the better revenue the state will get and the better Mississippi will be for everyone.”

The report calls for expanded student support services – such as help for students in locating affordable, high-quality child care or making any on-campus care more affordable for low-income students. It recommends that community colleges establish connections with community health centers and that existing campus health care centers receive adequate funding.

“We want to make sure students on community college campuses have access to health care and access to child care, particularly in areas outside of the large cities, where there is a transportation challenge,” Bardwell said.

It encourages enhanced career counseling that encourages women to pursue education for higher-paying jobs where they typically are underrepresented, such as those in science, technology, engineering and math.

The report highlights the need for more state financial aid for low-income students. Only 10 percent of female students surveyed reported receiving a state grant for higher education. This is a problem, the report said, because state grants are not awarded based on financial need and often have requirements that make it difficult for low-income and/or nontraditional students to apply.

About 15 percent of state grants awarded in Mississippi consider financial need, it said, compared with 71 percent nationally.

“If you don’t have enough financial aid, you are far less likely to stay in school,” Bardwell said.

Forty-three percent of survey participants either did not have health insurance or did not know whether they had it.

Nearly 90 percent of surveyed students said they are satisfied or very satisfied with their community college experience, and two-thirds said their college education has increased their self-confidence.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com