By Steve Nakata, Student Affairs & Enrollment
PULLMAN, Wash. – Single mom Christine Brown nearly fell through the cracks as a transfer student from community college to university. A grant she helped obtain for Washington State University will secure a smoother transition for others and establish a model for four-year institutions working with their regional community colleges.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) awarded the $5,000 grant to WSU’s Women’s Resource Center (WRC) to help women attending Community Colleges of Spokane (CCS) transfer to four-year institutions.
Under guidance from WRC Director Turea Erwin, the Campus Action Program (CAP) grant will fund a student team’s efforts to expand mentoring services through the Coalition for Women Students (CWS) and provide personalized guidance to women studying at three Spokane community colleges.
By increasing collaboration and communication with CCS campuses, the team seeks to raise awareness and address issues that inhibit women from successfully making the transfer.
“Based upon my own experiences during my academic journey,” said Brown, “efforts like this represent vital steps toward empowering women on college and university campuses, supporting their academic endeavors and encouraging their ultimate success.”
Brown, a WSU doctoral student involved with the grant proposal, said transfer issues cannot be isolated from other challenges like finding affordable and reliable childcare or navigating the complex process to obtain financial aid. In addition, women from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds face other specific issues on a daily basis.
“Therefore, we are taking an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to exchange ideas, share research, seek solutions, sponsor events, develop programs and extend our mentoring services in a collaborative effort with three CCS campuses,” she said. Those campuses are Spokane Community College, Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC) and SFCC’s Institute of Extended Learning in Pullman.
Every year, the AAUW accepts CAP proposals that effectively respond to issues that affect women.
AAUW’s 2013 report, “Women in Community College: Access to Success,” examined why many women at community colleges don’t transfer to four-year institutions and how those issues integrate with the overwhelming complexity of the financial aid process, balancing school and work responsibilities and accessing quality, affordable childcare.
Filling the cracks
As a single mother in her 30s, Brown experienced her own challenges with childcare while earning two associate degrees at Columbia Basin College in Pasco. When she was working on her master’s degree, no one informed her about how to apply for scholarships, grants and fellowships or about sources of funding like graduate or research/teaching assistantships that often pay nearly 100 percent of tuition and expenses.
“Many of us who do not attend a major university for the first two years often fall through the cracks in a variety of ways,” she said. “Add factors like being a first-generation college student, a woman, a single parent or an older student, and those cracks can widen into chasms that many women are unable to bridge successfully. I did, but barely by the skin of my teeth.”
Variety of challenges
AAUW’s report shows that women like Brown are not alone in facing challenges in higher education:
• Women make up the majority of students in higher education, yet nearly half of community college students do not earn an associate degree or transfer to a four-year institution.
• Research suggests the most significant reasons for student drop-out include inadequate guidance, inadequate support and difficulty transferring to four-year institutions.
• More than half of students eligible for Pell Grants never apply, many because they believe they are not eligible.
• Almost 80 percent of community college students work; 41 percent work full-time, which adversely affects attendance and academic performance. This directly correlates with lower levels of persistence and goal attainment.
• While four-year institutions almost universally offer new-student orientation, most community colleges do not. This lack of information not only reinforces the trend among women to choose “gender-traditional” programs, but partially explains why women are less likely than men to transfer to four-year institutions.
Erwin will oversee the CAP project with assistance from graduate assistant Casiana Pascariu and staff member Missy Gill. With an appreciation for the high degree of diversity in the community college population, nine WSU students from each of the five CWS student organizations (Mujeres Unidas, Black Women’s Caucus, Association for Pacific and Asian Women, Native American Women’s Association and YWCA @ WSU) form the CAP student team.
The team envisions this project as a pilot program for other four-year institutions to work with their regional community colleges.
The project will formally conclude in June when the AAUW will sponsor one student on the CAP team to travel to College Park, Md., to make a formal presentation at the AAUW’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. However, team members hope to see their efforts continue to bear fruit on the WSU campus for years to come.
Turea Erwin, WSU Women’s Resource Center, 509-335-8200, firstname.lastname@example.org
Christine Brown, WSU graduate student, 720-284-8132, hummingbirdWSU@gmail.com
Casiana Pascariu, WSU CAP project manager, 509-335-4386, email@example.com
Steve Nakata, director of communications, WSU Student Affairs & Enrollment, 509-335-1774, firstname.lastname@example.org