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FAFSA Impacts Single Mother's Ability To Complete School

Host Introduction:The deadline to apply for FAFSA—the Free Application For Federal Student Aid—is approaching. The paperwork is due June 30th.  The government tried to streamline the process to make it easier for families to apply, but the new system has been called confusing by many. And there are delays with students  receiving their grants. But as Uptown Radio’s Fahima Degia reports, old problems are already causing big headaches for one group of college students in particular.

Degia: It’s just before 8 a.m in the morning. Off Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, Shshay Charles is rushing to get her kids to school. Amelia and Ariel Hazzard are wearing matching beige coats, and matching buns, and eating the same breakfast sandwiches. Ambi 

Degia:  They all hunch into an Uber so their mom can drop them off before she heads to work. Charles says she’s always on the clock - and there’s never enough time …or money.

Degia: if you guys could change one thing and help your mom with one thing, what would you help her with? 

Hazard: I'll help her with the bills because the bills these days are really high. 

Degia: And then how about you?

Hazard: Same. 

Degia: Ariel and Amelia dream of going to college to help their mom.. Programs like FAFSA are also supposed to help. According to FAFSA - anyone can apply - how much aid you get is determined by your income and assets. But even if moms like Charles do get aid, they’re still expected to contribute - to help pay their own tuition. Charles works at a daycare center full-time. She makes fifty thousand dollars a year. and says she still cannot afford the cost of living - forget college .

Charles: I make a lot of sacrifices for these two little girls.  Um, there's a lot of things that 

I take away from myself in order to give to them to make sure they're okay.  I have to provide. A shelter for them. A place for them to sleep. I gotta provide food for them. Um, but, as a  single mom, I have rent, it's like a thousand dollars, I have a light bill, gas bill, phone bill, I have to be able to provide clothes for them. And that takes away from having to pay for school. 

Degia: Despite her hardships Charles has been trying to get her bachelor's degree. For the past ten years. She started right out of high school and racked up fifty thousand dollars in debt. She’s been trying to pay that off for years, but it’s been extra hard with kids. Dr. Jennifer Turner, is with the Institute for Women's Policy Research. She says single parents have limited financial resources. 

Dr. Turner: Because, you know, they don't have the two incomes in general in our society, in the U. S. Single mothers are more likely to live in poverty. Um, and so, yes, generally, it is more difficult for them to be able to afford college.

Degia: And the help you can get from FAFSA - loans and grants are not available forever. You can only apply for five school years. Single mom Shshay Charles applied recently and  was denied. She’s been going to school for ten years. Dr. Jennifer Turner says limiting college attendance can have a big impact.

Dr.Turner:  it still is one of the major ways for people to achieve economic mobility. And so if A mom is not able to attain an education, then that affects her whole family that affects her economic outcomes and then obviously that has an effect on her children, 

Degia: Turner says historically there are a lot of barriers in place that prevent Black single mothers like Shshay Charles from completing their education. And this can impact entire communities. Turner would like to see more grants and fewer loans …which can cause problems. 

Dr.Turner: it just creates this cycle of debt and it doesn't allow them to necessarily be able to finish their education because most people cannot afford to keep taking on all of this debt.

Degia: Instead parents who are also students often apply for shorter cheaper  programs like vocational school or certificates instead of four year degrees. And, on top of all this. College credits can expire. This means if a mom has to take a break from school to give birth - or take care of her kids her credits may be no good when she’s ready for school again. I’ve seen this problem myself. In addition to being a reporter I work as an Admissions Counselor at Touro University Shshay Charles is one of my schools. This happened to her. She has 118 credits.  It only takes 120 to graduate. But most of the schools she’s applied to say that half her credits are no good.

Charles: This is me about to sneak out the back of this Uber without my supervisor seeing me making sure shes not outside so I can run in. 


Degia: Charles is taking one class a year. She hopes to go back to her old college and get them to give her her old credits back. 

Fahima Degia Columbia Radio News.


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