by Rhonda Bishop
I anxiously scanned the packed gymnasium trying to get a glimpse of my mother’s graduation cap. Beaming like a proud parent, I snapped photos like the paparazzi as she walked across the stage to receive her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of Michigan. As a non-traditional student, my mother had graduated with honors while juggling full-time employment and raising our family. It took my mother three attempts to get her degree. She persevered through medical emergencies, family additions and financial barriers. She never gave up, and our entire family celebrated her accomplishment — as many other families celebrate their own graduates this spring.
But once the confetti is swept up, families have to face real realities on the financial burden that student debt places on households—and mine is no exception.
Today, more than one in three college students work full time, and more than one in four support dependents of their own, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Yet, our struggles sheepishly pale in comparison with the struggle that single mothers face in pursuit of higher education.
Many women recognize that higher education is becoming a critical necessity in this struggling economy—and they seek out the YWCA for support.
The YWCA extends their reach every day to help women and their families come within reach of opportunities to learn and develop job skills. The YWCA provides critical workforce development programs and GED support services to those who dream of going to college and securing decent jobs to support their families. As the largest provider of battered women shelters in the country, YWCA’s support services are important to women escaping violence, offering them a chance to pursue an education on their journey to becoming financially independent and thrive in an environment free from violence.
But that dream is being threatened.
Next week, the U.S. Senate is preparing to vote on the Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act of 2012 (S.2343). If enacted, this legislation would hold the interest rate for federal subsidized loans at 3.4 percent for one more year. This could not come at a more critical time as 43 states have reduced funding for public colleges on top of record tuition increases. College affordability is at risk.
Student loan interest rates have a substantial financial impact on YWCA clients—rising tuition costs have forced more Americans to take out student loans to graduate—and increased interest rates would be yet another hurdle for YWCA clients would face in achieving their educational goals. In addition, for many victims of violence, job training and educational programs such as the ones YWCAs offer are critical safety nets that ensure that women do not have to choose between leaving violent homes and attaining and education and financial independence. YWCAs must leverage our power on behalf of mothers, daughters, and families everywhere and urge our members of Congress to enact this timely piece of legislation.
If Congress fails to enact S. 2343, interest rates will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent in July 2012, saddling the more than 7 million students and their families who rely on federally-subsidized loans to help pay for college with another $1,000 of debt per year of school.
And, this would impact my family.
As I watched my mother cross the graduation stage, I couldn’t help but think about the women who walk across that stage and have the ability and courage to walk away from abusive partners and walk to a life of hope and promise. Let’s honor their dreams – and the dream of every woman who wants a better life for herself and her family – by passing S.2343.