Vermont’s Champlain College Gives Single Parents Another Chance

Three years ago, Victoria Garrison decided that she needed to return to college so that she could one day support herself and her family. However, the divorced mother of three young children aged 5, 6 and 8, including one with cerebral palsy, wasn’t sure how she could do it. But now the 34-year-old is finishing a degree in health information technology and is excited about her future following support from the Single Parents Program at Champlain College.

‘‘It’s helped me get my degree. With three kids, being divorced, doing it myself, it’s given me the opportunity to do it online,’’ she said.

Apart from helping with eligible single parents’ tuition, Champlain, a small private college with more than 2,000 students, also provides support from case workers and an emergency fund to cover expenses like books, car repairs, heating bills and winter coats. Additionally, according to the program director, Carol Moran-Brown, the program provides single parents a step out of poverty or an abusive relationship and positive modeling for children, who get to see their parents doing homework beside them.

Lisa Rathke of Associated Press writes that since its inception in 1987, more than 500 single parents, mostly women, have graduated from the program. Currently, 53 single parents are enrolled. As Garrison put it, support from her adviser, Felicia Messuri, helped her overcome challenges that many single parents face. She is preparing to find a job after she graduates in May.

“Many single parents have a sense of being alone in their circumstance but Felicia made me realize it didn’t have to be that way,’’ she said. ‘‘She empowered me to speak up and together we were able to find solutions to all of the challenges that came up along the journey.’’

As spokesman Stephen Mease puts it, more than $500,000 is invested in a year by Champlain to cover counseling staff, scholarships, an emergency fund, and holiday sponsorships, including providing gifts to single parent families who can’t afford them. An additional $225,000 is raised by the school from donors annually for scholarships and the emergency fund. Daniel Hurley, associate vice president for government relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities based in Washington, called it a smart program that will help Vermont deal with a projected decline in the number of high school graduates in the state.

“Anything that states, colleges and universities can do to facilitate college entry and success by nontraditional populations such as single parents and low-income (people) is a very smart move for the state both economically and socially,’’ he said.

Mease also said that $4,000 to $19,000 a year is the scholarship range, depending on how many classes a student takes and whether they are a continuing education student taking courses online or a traditional student.