Arkansas Scholarship Provides Funds for Single Parents, A Model for Higher Education Funding Reform

Policy
Posted By Eliana Osborn on June 13, 2016 at 10:58 am
Arkansas Scholarship Provides Funds for Single Parents, A Model for Higher Education Funding Reform

What happens when you combine two or three challenging, full-time pursuits? A lot of stress and not enough hours, especially for parents pursuing a degree with kids at home. Trying to make it all work—and pay for the things your family needs—can be a nearly insurmountable burden. Realizing this, an Arkansas scholarship fund is trying to help make the road a little smoother for single parents to complete their educations.

The Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund began in 1990, before most colleges and universities were targeting nontraditional students. Today, the fund awards more than $1.4 million in scholarships each year, allowing some of the most vulnerable students and their families to have a better standard of living. Both degree and certificate programs are eligible for funds, allowing a wide variety of students to participate.

Even better news? The completion rate for students in the program is significantly higher than in the general student population, at 88%.

However, despite the many positive results from the last 25 years, the ASPSF thinks only 10% of eligible single parent needs are being met across the state.

In 1990, when the ASPSF brought together two different volunteer programs, Hilary Clinton was the first lady. Now that she’s the Democratic candidate for the White House, the success of the Arkansas program is a model for what she wants to implement for higher education funding reform nationwide.

Clinton’s New College Compact plan is an ambitious look at making college possible for many more Americans. That includes funding for child care assistance for parents taking classes, tuition-free community college, debt free public university, and SPARK as a nationwide version of ASPSF. SPARK stands for Student Parents in America Raising Kids; it would award scholarships of up to $1,500 per year for up to one million students.

The concept behind both  SPARK and ASPSF is a two-generation approach to higher education, looking at improving the lives of not just children but their parents as well. Programs that target one group can fail when not considering the full picture of need; anything that impacts family finances impacts everyone in the household.

While universities like Northwestern offer discounts for parents to take classes while their students are enrolled, getting parents through school when their children are young can have broader impacts. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that individuals over 25 with just a high school diploma make an average of $678 per week for full-time employment. With an associate’s degree, the number rises to $798. $100 extra dollars a week can mean a lot.

The Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship has been a successful step toward helping families improve their socioeconomic status. Expanding it nationwide through SPARK could ease the way forward to 25 times more students, nationwide.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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