|Abstract or Summary
- This qualitative study explores the experiences of women who are welfare
recipients attending a community college under the auspices of a new program,
Washington State's WorkFirst/Work Study program. The study, conducted over
two academic quarters, includes in-depth interviews with WorkFirst/Work Study
students, observations in a weekly seminar, and interviews with community
college staff who work in the program.
The overarching research question is: "What are the challenges and the
transition issues confronted by women who are living in poverty and participating
in a community college program?" The research elicits responses about the
women's expectations and fears about education, their aspirations for themselves
and their children, what they hope to gain from the college experience and what
barriers may interfere. The study identifies five contextual issues in the women's
lives: family background and history, relationships, physical and psychological
health, housing, and finances. And the study explores the participants' experience
with and attitudes toward four thematic areas: parenting, welfare, work and
school. A major goal was to give voice to these women.
Underlying assumptions are that community college administrators and
faculty want to improve access, success and satisfaction with the college for poor
women; that learning about how poor women experience the community college
gives college personnel valuable information; that Washington community colleges
have an interest in working with WorkFirst; and that better understanding of
WorkFirst/Work Study participants' experiences is valuable to the colleges and
benefits low-income students.
The women interviewed are highly motivated and believe that an education
is key to a better life for them and their children. Some of the barriers they face are
embedded in the restrictions and requirements of the WorkFirst program.
Nevertheless, these women say they are better off on welfare, working and going to
school than they were when they were among the working poor. The study
questions the value of some vocational education and suggests that more low-income
women could be recruited to community college earlier in their lives.