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Monday, May 28, 2012

Who is Graduating?

It’s graduation season and while the news is full of depressing stories of young adults with few job prospects, planning to move back in with parents after graduation, the statistics show an improvement. 

According to the Associated Press, the unemployment rate for college grads under 25 is lower in 2012 (so far) than in either 2010 or 2011 (ABC News). Perhaps the clouds are clearing for graduatesat least for those who complete their degree by age 25.

Of the over  19 million college students in the U.S., though, about 40% are attending part time. Of the almost 7 million attending community college, it is anticipated that fewer than half will complete an associate’s degree or transfer to a four-year university within six years of enrollment. (US News & World Report; Institute for Education Sciences)

This brings us to the question – who is graduating? Estimates show that in the U.S. this year, over 3 million will graduate high school or earn a GED, over 700,000 will complete an associate’s degree, and over 1.7 million will complete a bachelor’s degree. That’s a lot to celebrate, especially when you know the odds that many of them have had to overcome just to get to school every day.

On the Benevolent site (www.benevolent.net), we feature many people who are pursuing degrees – associate’s, bachelors, certifications – and each one faces incredible challenges along the way towards those goals. Almost none of them reflect the stereotype of the 21-year-old fresh-faced graduate, ready to take on the world. They look like Jean, a 42 year old nursing student who recently interned for the Transit Authority cleaning trains.

They also look like Samantha who is married, works full time as a home visiting aide and goes to community college in the evenings. Despite her young appearance, Samantha is a 26-year-old mother of a three-year-old.

Benevolent’s students are mothers and fathers. They’re studying to be nurses and radiology technicians. They’re studying criminal justice and business. They’re going to school part time while working full- or part-time. They’ve survived cancer, domestic violence, homelessness, and more. They’re not the students the headlines and stories focus on when they’re pondering the fate of this year’s class of graduates.

For us here at Benevolent, these are the learners and strivers with whom we’re most concerned. When a low-income parent succeeds in improving his or her education, getting a better job, and finding increased stability, then the children in that household will have vastly improved chances of achieving in their own rights and landing in a more stable circumstance. When we help adult learners succeed, we help more than one generation of students  -- and those triumphant graduations, for us, will have twice the weight.

- megan kashner, founder & ceo

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fierce Love...Unplanned?

A few weeks before she passed away, my Great Aunt Mil contributed to one of our Benevolent recipients. She chose to help someone who has seven children living at home with her. Aunt Mil was glad to give and glad to help, but as she did so, she said (in her 95-year-old pithy way): “Seven kids. I don’t see how she’ll ever get ahead.”

When we hear or read about the allegorical welfare mom (or welfare queen, depending on your source), she often has a great number of children – a brood, if you will. She is, of course, hyperbole, as are her numerous children. This Mother’s Day weekend, however, I found myself thinking about this allegorical figure in a different light.

On Mother’s Day I got to sleep in, celebrate with my kids and all that. Later that day I sat down to write for today’s blog and my mind kept going back to a piece of research I read recently and some trends we’re seeing among the recipients on the Benevolent site.

We launched the Benevolent site only this past December, but as early as March, I started to see a thread of connection I hadn’t anticipated. It seemed to me that of the women who posted their needs to the Benevolent site, those who described having fled and survived domestic violence had more children than those who did not report a history of domestic violence.  

Of course as we seek to help the mother who has escaped and overcome domestic violence to thrive, we do not and should not ask whether the number of children she has a connection to victimization. This started me wondering, though - was this a real trend, and if so, why?  I started looking for research to help me understand what I thought I might be seeing.

I found some articles and papers that described the ways in which abusers undermine a woman’s control over her fertility choices. These included interference with contraception (making holes in condoms, discarding a woman’s contraceptive pills or devices), sexual assault, and more. (Black, 2011) But this article posed no quantitative analysis to indicate how prevalent this was.

Another article summed up the scholarly research on the connections between unintended pregnancy and domestic violence. This one told me more. I discovered that in one U.S. study, “almost 70% of women reporting physical violence had unwanted and/or mistimed pregnancies,” and women with unwanted pregnancies were 4.1 times more likely to have been physically abused “than women with intended pregnancies before adjusting for other variables.” (Gazmararian et al., 1995)

Again, not clear causality, but certainly an arresting correlation. The author of this article explained: “The association between intimate partner violence and unintended pregnancy implies an intergenerational cycle in which unintended childbearing in abusive households can lead to repeated cycles of violence and unintended pregnancy.” (Pallitto et al, 2005)

What is clear is that the more children a mother has, the harder it will be for her to protect them, provide for them, and promote their education, simply by virtue of numbers.

Aunt Mil had a point. If there is any causality – whether widespread or even sporadic – between intimate violence and unintended pregnancy, then I want to take this moment – this Mother’s Day moment – to express my immense respect for those women who fiercely love, protect, support, and nurture children whose existence they had not planned or intended.

As a mother who held complete control over when and how I would choose to try to conceive, I concede all maternal kudos today and award them all to those mothers who protected their children, brought them to safety, fought to rebuild and thrive, and fight on today as they raise children they pray will never repeat the violence of their mutual past.

-  megan kashner, founder & ceo
   Benevolent - www.benevolent.net