December 22, 2013

Vermont college helps single parents earn degrees

Champlain College’s program supports nontraditional students in all types of ways.

By Lisa Rathke
The Associated Press

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Victoria Garrison decided three years ago that she needed to return to college so that she could one day support herself and her family. But the divorced mother of three young children, including one with cerebral palsy, wasn’t sure how she could do it.

Now, with support from the Single Parents Program at Champlain College, the 34-year-old from Shelburne is finishing a degree in health information technology and is excited about her future.

“It’s helped me get my degree. With three kids, being divorced, doing it myself, it’s given me the opportunity to do it online,” she said.

Not only does Champlain – a small private college with more than 2,000 students – help with eligible single parents’ tuition, it also provides support from caseworkers and an emergency fund to cover expenses like books, car repairs, heating bills and winter coats.

The program provides single parents a step out of poverty or an abusive relationship and positive modeling for children, who get to see their parents doing homework beside them, said program director Carol Moran-Brown.

More than 500 single parents, mostly women, have graduated from the program since its inception in 1987. There are 53 single parents enrolled now.

Champlain invests more $500,000 a year to cover counseling staff, scholarships, an emergency fund, and holiday sponsorships, including providing gifts to single-parent families who can’t afford them, said spokesman Stephen Mease. The school raises an additional $225,000 from donors annually for scholarships and the emergency fund.

Daniel Hurley, associate vice president for government relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities based in Washington, called it a smart program. “Anything that states, colleges and universities can do to facilitate college entry and success by nontraditional populations ... is a very smart move for the state both economically and socially,” he said.

Scholarships range from $4,000 to $19,000 a year, Mease said.

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