I read an interesting statistic the other day: two-thirds of the Futures for Frontliners applicants are female. It’s not surprising, however. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women occupy about two-thirds of all low-wage occupations. (The National Women’s Law Center defines a low-wage occupation as one that pays $10.10 or less per hour.)
Women over the age of 50 and mothers are disproportionately represented in the low-wage workforce, too. Interestingly, women with some college or an associate degree are also over-represented in the low-wage workforce. It’s also worthwhile to note that the most recent jobs reports compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that women have left the workforce in staggeringly large numbers since September. In many cases, the complexities of trying to balance work and the educational needs of their school-age children has proven to be too much. In response, women have erased more than a decade of gains in the labor force in just four months.
The point of the Futures for Frontliners program is to lift people out of poverty. Typically, low-wage earners don’t attend college because they can’t afford to stop working. Balancing the demands of full-time work and going to school is difficult, especially for people who have been out of the classroom for a while.
Futures for Frontliners students require high quality advising
It is essential that community colleges provide high-quality academic advising to women who are returning to school under the program. For many of these women, the program is their only opportunity to attend college. It is not enough to steer them toward high-demand programs. High-demand occupations don’t always equal high-wage occupations. Factors like chronically low wages could easily produce high turnover and create high demand. Women don’t need to be put into yet another meat grinder. They need high-skill, high-wage jobs that can help them support themselves and their families.
Steering women toward programs designed for rapid entry into the workforce may be great for the College’s graduation numbers, but maybe not so great for the women who get routed right back into low-wage work. Five years after earning a short-term certificate, a person can expect to make 15% more than they did on Day 1. After five years, an associate degree holder can expect to earn 20% more than he or she did on Day 1. Similarly, a bachelor’s degree holder can expect to make about 38% more after five years on the job. Community colleges need to make sure these new students understand the longer-term monetary consequences of short-term study programs.
WCC’s Winter term enrollment is down slightly, both in terms of headcount and credit hours. While some Frontliner have enrolled in classes, the program does allow participants to delay starting school until later this year. We do not yet know the full impact of the Futures for Frontliners program on college enrollment, but we do know the impact of college enrollment on the lives of people working in low-wage jobs. The least we can offer the Frontliners is “eyes-wide-open” career counseling and academic advising.
Photo Credit: JR P , via Flickr