Attending and graduating college can be a challenging task, and doing this while also being a single mother is significantly more difficult.
According to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the number of single mothers attending college has more than doubled between the years 1999 and 2012. However, these students are much less likely to graduate.
The original mission of the Sisters of Mercy was to provide education to the underserved. Seeking to follow this mission, Mercyhurst North East will be launching its Women with Children Program in the Fall of 2018. As one of only 10 programs of its type, the Women with Children Program is designed to empower young mothers, helping them receive a college education while simultaneously balancing the responsibility of being a single parent.
Ideas for this project began during President Michael T. Victor’s first year at Mercyhurst.
Victor attended the Conference for Mercy Higher Education with other Mercy college presidents. Having learned about at similar program at Misericordia University, Victor decided to plant the seed for a comparable program at Mercyhurst.
Over the past year and a half, he has worked with Jacqulyn Fink, director of Administration at Mercyhurst North East, and Sister Joanne Courneen, RSM, to develop the program and find a location for these families to live on campus.
Victor wrote a letter in late February, announcing that North East campus townhouses 9-14 will be designated for the Women with Children Program. Additionally, a fenced-in playground area will be constructed for the students’ children.
“We believe this community within a community will also provide the social and emotional support that these young families seek,” Victor said.
Fink shared similar sentiments as Victor, emphasizing the future doors that education can open for each woman involved in the program.
“This experience will empower these women through educational achievement and personal growth allowing them to establish a career to support themselves and their children,” Fink said.
Fink described these future students’ experiences living on campus as being comparable to a traditional college experience. There will, however, be a few integral differences.
“They will receive all the campus services currently available to any student enrolled at Mercyhurst North East,” said Fink. “Additional programing for family management, budgeting, self-esteem, etc., will be offered, as well as some programming for the children.”
The Women with Children program, as well as the townhouse and playground projects, are expected to be operational come July, which will allow applicants to begin the program at Mercyhurst North East in the fall.
Victor and Fink hope to have a total of five families enrolled for the 2018-19 academic year. However, those families have yet to be accepted into the new program.
Applicants will be required to undergo the same process as traditional students and then, as an extra section to the application, apply for the Women with Children program. To qualify, the women must be near poverty level, with no more than two children ages 2-10. It is also required that each woman not have a criminal record.
While the first year of the program will be a work in progress, Fink hopes that one day it will yield a 100 percent graduation rate.
“It will be a wonderful day when one of the children from the program chooses to enroll at Mercyhurst University because of this program and how it changed the life of his/her family,” Fink said.
The Women with Children Program is one more way in which Mercyhurst is choosing to uphold its core values, providing educational opportunities for those who might not otherwise attend college.