Single parents, especially moms, thrive at Brandman
The national statistics are daunting for the 2 million single mothers now enrolled in college. Only about 33 percent are expected to complete their degrees within six years, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
The numbers are considerably better for Brandman University. For those beginning classes in fall 2006-08, 66 percent have completed their degrees within six years. Even more impressive is the graduation rate for all parents (including single mothers and fathers), which is 72 percent according to the Office of Institutional Research.
What’s the secret to Brandman’s success?
“Single parents face tremendous time management issues,” said academic advisor Theresa Hadfield, who has guided many parents through their time at Brandman. “We try to help them from the start.”
Among the strategies Brandman offers are One-Stop help for financial issues, academic advising and executive coaching to help them balance work, family and school, cost-saving strategies including taking some of their basic courses concurrently at a community college, and making them aware of support services including disabilities services.
Several national trends play out at Brandman, according to Executive Vice Chancellor Saskia Knight. She oversees enrollment and student affairs.
“The paradigm shift of the ‘70s brought more women to higher education,” she said. When paired with Brandman’s focus on adult learners who have been in the military or away from school for a while, the chances of that student already being a parent increases.
“The common themes we hear for why someone wants to go school – to have a better life, to be an example to their children, to get a promotion, to get a degree – all of those also fit single parents,” said Knight.
According to Sean Nemeth, associate vice chancellor of Enrollment Services, Retention and Advising, research done on Brandman students showed that they start out worried about academic success but by the fourth week, they’re worried about time management and how to fit everything in. That worry may be especially true for single parents.
Nemeth recounted a story about a student who explained why she had to miss class. “She had promised herself that she would only feed her children fast food one night a week and she had already done it that week. She skipped class to give her kids a healthy meal.”
Helping students balance those kinds of expectations is at the core of Brandman’s executive coaching program, said Knight. “I think in general we are totally student centered.”
Nemeth said executive coaching, which is modeled on CEO coaching found throughout corporations, helps student get to their core motivation for going to school.
“Sometimes students have on rose-colored glasses when they start, but when you hit that first hurdle, when outside issues get in the way, it’s great to have someone remind you what your dream is. Good executive coaches use the student’s words to help them move forward,” he said.
Here’s what some of the single parents now in the program or who have graduated have to say about some of the issues they’ve faced.
Amberleigh Dancy, working toward her B.A. in business after completing an associate degree at Santiago Canyon Community College in Orange; mother of two boys, ages 6 and 9; full-time Realtor.
- Biggest challenge: Managing her time while working full time and keeping track of two boys. Finding classes that she can work into her schedule, which was difficult at the community college.
- How Brandman succeeds: Although Dancy just started her first class, she’s already been impressed by how easy it was to apply and to enroll, especially with the help offered by her academic adviser. Classes offered at night and eight-week sessions offered her the flexibility she needs. She weighed going to Brandman against going to Cal State Fullerton, but chose Brandman because it was easier to get to, which added valuable time to her schedule, and “worked better with her life.”
- Why she’s in school now: After high school, she was not that excited about going to school. She got married, had children and continued working in real estate, the family business which she joined while still a teenager. But after her divorce, she started thinking more about what she wanted in life. “I think I’m getting so much more out of it now. It’s different when you have to pay for it yourself.”
Laura Noga, working toward her master’s at Brandman but completed her bachelor degree at Cal State Fullerton while raising two boys, ages 12 and 8. She had an associate degree when she entered CSUF and it took seven years to finish.
- Biggest challenge: Supporting herself and her kids and working school into a schedule that allowed her to work as a school secretary and keep up with her children’s activities.
- How she made it work: While at Cal State Fullerton, she brought her children to class with her, contacting her teachers in advance to get permission. She never took more than two classes a semester. It took her seven years to finish despite already having some coursework completed before having children.
- What she’s doing now: Because Noga now works at Brandman University in student accounts and her children are grown, she’s able to pursue her dream of getting a master’s degree.
- What could Brandman do better: She would like to see Brandman able to offer care for younger children. “That would be a whole different animal for Brandman but it would encourage more single moms to educate themselves.”
Mayra Torres is working toward an associate degree in business. The 28-year-old has a daughter, age 6, and is in her second year at Brandman after starting with the Ameritas College program. Trying to juggle school, work and raising a child is “very stressful,” she said.
- Biggest challenge: She works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Northgate Market in Santa Ana. Once she gets home she tries to help her daughter with her homework, cook dinner and then find time to do her own homework or attend class. She’s paid on an hourly basis so if she has to leave early for class or to attend to her daughter, she loses pay.
- How she makes it work: She does most of her school work early on Saturdays and Sundays, which are her days off of work, and before her daughter gets up. She tries to do a little work every day so she doesn’t get behind, but it can be hard to find the time.
- What it would make it easier: She would love to have a little more flexibility and understanding from Brandman professors, particularly about turning assignments in late. “Sometimes there are just too many things going on at the same time.”
- What’s next: She wants to keep going and earn her bachelor’s degree but she needs to figure out how she can work fewer hours to devote more time to schoolwork and still pay the rent.
Crystal Yancy has two daughters, ages 15 and 9, and is on schedule to complete her MBA by August. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science in 1996 and works at Southern California Gas Co. She first started thinking about going back to school in 2000 but “life has a way of getting in the way.” Thanks to the Gas. Co.’s partnership with Brandman and a scholarship, she’s finally been able to check off something that’s been on her “development list” for a while.
- Biggest challenge: Time for fitting it all in. She has some flexibility with work because she can work from home and she thinks the Gas Co. has been phenomenal about putting its employees and their needs first. But she’s determined to do well at school and still be genuinely present for her daughters.
- How she makes it work: She’s relied on her mother to help during work hours. At Brandman, the biggest help has come from her academic advisor Rebecca Warner. “She’s helped me every step of the way.” The roadmap laid out by Warner has kept her on track for getting her MBA in the optimum time.
- How Brandman has helped: The scholarship program and partnership with the Gas Co. have been critical to her success. The cohort system which has connected her to other students in her program has been invaluable, she said.
Higher education has been slow to adjust to the changing demographics of its college students, Lumina Foundation CEO Jamie P. Merisotis, noting that 4.8 million students have children and half are single parents. In an article posted on the Congress Blog, the leader of the nation’s largest private foundation committed to enrolling and graduation more students from college urged three ways to maximize attendance from parents: improve financial aid; measure student learning, not classroom time; democratize high-quality instruction through technology and increased access.
Brandman’s latest initiative, competency-based education, could also turn out to be a benefit for single parents, said Nemeth. It would allow the knowledge and skills gained outside the standard classroom, including managing a family and a job, to count toward earning a degree.
As with online learning, eight-week sessions and blended classes that combine online and classroom work, competency-based education would offer flexibility to the students who need it most.
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