How do old, poor people go to college on the cheap?
May 24, 2012 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Are there any programs that send Welfare moms to college? What sort of loans should I look for if I want to do it on my own?

I'm turning 40 this fall. My oldest child is starting high school, the younger two are 6 and 9.
I was a stay at home mom until their dad's mental health issues made it too dangerous to stay with him. I left 5 years ago and have been so happy, but very poor. Food stamps have really helped. The children have needed me at home a good bit, making working full time very difficult. They are now all old enough where I could get us out of poverty, but I don't know where to start. Are there programs out there to help someone like me? I'm white, I've never done anything illegal or even immoral. I'm a good, Christian lady. My point being, I don't have a super interesting story and I've noticed that people with interesting stories get help. I missed out on the college experience due to chronic illness from age 16 to 25, which is now mostly resolved. That's as interesting as my story gets. I was in gifted and talented (High I.Q. Club) in school, and I pick up things quickly, so I know I would succeed in college. I'm thinking of getting a 4 year degree and then working as a school teacher while I finish up whatever I need to continue as a teacher. I live in Louisiana, if that helps. I am willing to move anywhere.
posted by myselfasme to Education (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I went to school as a single parent (although I did have a girlfriend/fiance at the time that helped out).

I started at a community college which was nice because it let me get my feet wet without too much commitment, however the amount of aid and loans available were basically nil.

My life got much much easier once I got to a big four year university. Not just financially - The school I went to had a subsidized daycare and other help, too. Plus the financial aid people were very good about putting me in touch with other sources of aid/help/advice etc.

I would suggest to you that a larger state university will have more to offer you. The downside is you need to attend to get the loans and grants. Which means you have to be accepted and you need to move where it is. Those can be challenges.

My point is - it is totally doable, and lots of people do it. It's not easy and you don't need to be special; just committed and hard working and willing to advocate for yourself and ask for help.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:47 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are in MA, One Family has a program that does exactly this.
posted by zizzle at 8:50 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Ada Comstock program at Smith College may work for you (not limited to welfare moms).
posted by cushie at 8:54 AM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

The University of Michigan has a scholarship program for women whose education was interrupted. However, it does look like you have to be admitted and enrolled for the academic year in which you would be awarded the scholarship.

There is a hefty list of other scholarships for women on the page I linked.
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:00 AM on May 24, 2012

Community colleges are where you'll find help. Cheap classes, transfer programs to local universities, and faculty that understands needs of working students. You wouldn't have to uproot your family. You could get the chance to meet a less homogenous student body who could help you find a flexible job.
posted by discopolo at 9:08 AM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Talbots has a scholarship for older women interested in going back to school.
posted by lotusmish at 9:14 AM on May 24, 2012

If you move forward with this, you will be categorized as a "non-traditional student." There are programs and scholarships targeted at non-traditional students and that term should help you when you are googling, and communicating with school officials.

This is an article about non traditional students at my alma mater. It references a scholarship program aimed at non-traditional students. It looks like a Number of other schools, including Tulane, participate in the program.

I hope that helps you move forward. good luck!
posted by Good Brain at 9:16 AM on May 24, 2012

Here in Seattle there is a state-funded program for recipients of food assistance that would pay for two quarters of education. A friend of mine did that and really benefited. Even if you can get funding for a year, that would give you a chance to start applying for scholarships. Talk to your local community college financial aid office, and ask if there is anyone else at the college who advises for these programs, because in Seattle the finaid office doesn't handle the food assistance. Your local dshs office might know too. If you get a "no" in one place, keep looking. Often one office may be totally unaware of aid available through another office.

One thing to be aware of: it may be your best bet to move to a state with good resources, but it can be a gamble. You usually cannot get out of state tuition waived and must first establish residency, and programs are getting cancelled every day. Last year a huge portion of programs at Seattle community colleges were slashed.

Regardless of where you end up starting, visit your local community college for questions first. They have great experience helping adults and single mothers get back to school.
posted by thelastcamel at 9:20 AM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Look at community colleges in your area first that use the federal financial aid program. Get a two year degree with the intent of transferring it to a local state college, and finish up your bachelor's degree at the state school. This will minimize the amount of tuition you will have to pay while maximizing your chances for aid.

Be aware that you will almost certainly not be eligible for any of the state based aid programs in any state but your own, and you will not be eligible for any in-state tuition rates for any but your own.

It sounds like you're kind of banking on a specific scholarship that will fund you throughout your entire program. You should definitely apply to any and all scholarships you think you may be eligible for (check your school's for a parent help center who may know of some opportunities), but it is far more likely that you are going to fund yourself by bits and pieces of federal aid as well as loans. I would definitely work part time while your in school as well if that's an option for your family situtation. The idea is to pay your tuition and still keep your loan debt as low as possible.
posted by Think_Long at 9:42 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, as far as loans go - your school's financial aid office will help hook you up with federal loans first after you fill out your FAFSA application. I would not recommend getting a private loan through a bank unless absolutely necessary - federal loans have income based repayment options as well as loan forgiveness if you go into certain fields. Also, federal loans don't require a credit check, whereas your private loan would most likely require a cosigner.
posted by Think_Long at 9:51 AM on May 24, 2012

You're probably not going to have the college experience of the sort that you missed.

Your long term plans need to be fleshed out; school teacher may not be an achievable goal.

You may want to get some thoughts from a career advising service run by the state you live in.
posted by rr at 9:53 AM on May 24, 2012

Are you sure a four year college degree leading to a school teacher job is the best decision for you? I feel like careers that don't require the traditional four year degree are also easier to break into, which it sounds like you need as you have kids that need money NOW and also don't have a long span of time to develop your career.

Have you thought about doing something like nursing or another medical related field? A lot of community colleges have decent programs and job placement, and will be pretty affordable.

Since you already get government assistance, once you apply for schools you will also apply for the FAFSA, which lets you know how much government grants and federally subsidized loans you qualify for. With three kids and a low income, my guess is you'll get a lot.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 10:01 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The search term you want to use is "displaced homemakers".

Here's one program in Louisiana. I don't know anything about it personally. I mostly see these kinds of programs at community colleges and Jesuit/Catholic universities and colleges.

Good luck!
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:12 AM on May 24, 2012

And sorry, that's not a program as much as an informational page, but it's a good one. The primary people you'll want to talk to will be financial aid and admissions offices.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:13 AM on May 24, 2012

Nthing community college, and also broadening your career horizons. From my admittedly anecdotal experience, so many former SAHMs who return to college as older students seem to select "teaching" as their default career for various reasons. Having kids doesn't equate to loving to work with them; plus these days, teaching budgets are being cut all over the country, experienced teachers are out of work, so it's no longer the easy-peasy-to-break-into field for older women that it might have been at one time.

Since you probably need money pretty badly and don't want to take on huge loans, why not try a community college certificate or two-year program for a more in-demand career, and then, once you are actually working, get your bachelor's degree from there? It would save money and also get you out there in the working world a lot faster. Then once you've found your feet a bit, you have more of the luxury of picking your four-year degree and permanent job field (or it may turn out that your two-year degree gets you a job you love).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:16 AM on May 24, 2012

Consider Catholic universities, like St. John's University in New York, which often prioritize the inclusion a large percentage of "at-risk" students (people earning below the federal poverty line) in their yearly enrollments. Sometimes they try to make sure as much as 40% of overall incoming class is made up of the poor. This is part of the university's mission to share their resources with the poor. The tuition is very high, but that is partly so that the people who can pay the whole thing can better subsidize those who can't. I've heard that their financial packages often make them more attractive than even public schools. And I think they like to bring in out of state students too. Some schools, believe it or not, are seeking your demographic because your attendance at the school 1) gives credence to the mission which then 2) attracts funding from other institutions that want to help the poor get higher education. You might play up the diversity card as well... Your fellow classmates would benefit from being in the classroom with someone older with more life experience.
posted by Jagz-Mario at 10:16 AM on May 24, 2012

One of the big dirty secrets in K-12 education is that different states have massively different requirements for school teachers. While becoming a teacher in New York state might be a bit of a reach from where you are at, Louisiana would not be at all. As written this question is a bit too broad to get really good answers, if you narrow down what you want a bit more, like location?, we can start hunting for specific resources available for you.

BTW, the life narrative that you gave us here is more than impressive enough for admissions departments, don't sell yourself short. Successfully moving out on your own as a single mother with little ones is really fucking non-trivial.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:36 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are a number of programs across the U.S. For "displaced homemakers". They help women return to the workforce, including financial aid.

You will need to fill out a FAFSA (Federal Application for Student Aid), just like any new student, to be eligible for most scholarships. As you are on food stamps, you will most certainly qualify for Federal aid, and puttingin that application also automatically enters you for a lot of scholarships, many of which are targeted specifically to women.

Business and Professional Women Foundation--offers educational resources, job postings, mentoring, etc.

Displaced Homemakers--offers help for women returning to the workforce after being SAHMs. There are local chapters all over the U.S., check your state.
National Displaced Homemakers Network
1625 K Street, N.W. Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20006
PHONE: (202)467-6346
FAX: (202)467-5366
posted by misha at 10:49 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The agency where I work has a matched-savings program for people who are at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. (For a family of 3, that's a gross monthly income of around $3,800). In our program, you receive $2 for every $1 you save towards a goal, including paying for your education. These types of programs are called IDAs, or Individual Development Accounts and they exist specifically to allow low-income people to save up towards a lifelong asset (for example, at my agency, we allow you to save towards Education, home ownership, or starting a small business).

If there is a Community Action agency in your county, I'd start there. Even if they don't have a program, they will probably be able to refer you if there is some type of help with IDAs available in your community. (Community Action would likely be able to help you with some other programs, as well!)

Best of luck!
posted by nuclear_soup at 11:10 AM on May 24, 2012

Oh also, I'm not sure what your job situation is, but if you are interested in serving for a year in AmeriCorps, they offer an education award of roughly $5,000 that you can put towards your education costs. Depending on the position you apply for, you may even be able to serve in an AmeriCorps position that involves education and get some teaching experience to add to your resume.
posted by nuclear_soup at 11:14 AM on May 24, 2012

Do you want to go to college for the "experience" or because you think a four-year degree is the best route to a better-paying job? You mentioned teaching; to be honest with you, if you're anxious to get out into the working world and earn some money, right now a lot of office clerical jobs pay as much as first-year teaching positions, and with no school loans to repay. Do you have any particular skills - can you type? Are you familiar with any word processing or spreadsheet computer programs? I don't know anything about how much you're allowed to earn while on food stamps, but even a part-time clerical or data entry job would give you experience and some income, and then you could look into attending community college classes part-time. (Back when I was an office manager at a few different small businesses, we hired quite a few women referred to us by the Displaced Homemakers program.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:20 AM on May 24, 2012

Apparently in Louisiana, there's a K-12 Paraprofessional program available.

It's a two year program and afterwards you can be in a classroom. If you want to continue on in your education from there, then you can. If, after enrolling, and working for a bit, it's not for you, no problem, many of the credits will be transferrable and you can just pick up your education from there.

Apparently these programs are offered in various places in LA, so you could see if there's somewhere local to you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:00 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love and adore any opportunity to introduce women to the Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund, whose entire mission is to financially support impoverished women over the age of 35 who are pursuing a first bachelor's degree.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:31 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

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