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Institutional influences affecting the college-going decisions of low-income mothers attending a rural midwestern community college

Dissertation
Author: Kristin B. Wilson
Abstract:
Education has proven one path out of poverty for low-income single mothers, yet many are not completing and transferring at high rates. Using theories of economic development as the lens for analysis, I sought to study how single mothers used certain government and institutional policies to facilitate their attendance at a rural community college in a Midwestern state, and how these policies shaped the women's choices about college attendance. More specifically, I wanted to understand how the single mothers' college-going decisions related to access, persistence, completion, and transfer were affected by the federal, state, and local policies they used to manage their economic circumstances. This was a qualitative study using a multiple-case study approach. Each participant was an individual case, and there were ten cases studied. For the participants in the study, the Pell Grant was an important avenue of access to the community college; however, it was not sufficient to serve as an avenue of access to the baccalaureate. As well, the lack of access to health coverage, child custody agreements, and an unwillingness to relocate proved to be important barriers to degree completion. Policy and practitioner implications include providing advising at the college about the intersections between higher education programs and welfare programs, developing learning communities for single mothers enrolled in higher education, and developing programs that bring a baccalaureate degree to rural areas. Implications for research include using conceptual frameworks that captures the whole life experiences of disadvantaged groups, disaggregating migration research to consider community college students separately, and studying how Work-Study funds are used by institutional context.

TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS………………………………………………….…………... ii LIST OF TABLES………………………………………………………………….…... vi ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………….……… vii OVERVIEW…………...………………………………………………………………… 1 Introduction…………………………………………………………………………….. 1 Conceptual Framework………………………………………………………………… 5 Review of Literature…………………………………………………………………… 8 Purpose of Study……………………………………………………………………… 11 Research Design………………………………………………………………………. 11 Research Questions…………………………………………………………………… 12 Definitions…………………………………………………………………………….. 13 Limitations……………………………………………………………………………. 13 Significance of the Study……………………………………………………………... 14 Conclusion…….………………………………………………………………………. 15

LITERATURE REVIEW………………………………………………………………. 16

Introduction……………………………………………………………….…………... 16 Conceptual Framework…………………………………………………….…………. 17 Human Capital and Economic Growth………………………………….……………. 22 Education Borrowing and the Credit Market…………………………….…………… 30 College Factors….……………………………………………………….…………..... 35 Beginning at a Community College………………………………………………… 38 Delayed Enrollment, Age, and Parenting…………………………………………… 39 Less Prepared for College…………………………………………………………... 41 Fewer Financial Resources…………………………………………………………. 43 Part-Time versus Full-Time Enrollment…………………………………………..… 44 College Factors Conclusion…………………………………………………….……. 45 Education and Low-Income Mothers…………………………………………….…… 45 Conclusion….…………………………………………………………………………. 50

RESEARCH METHODS..……………………………………………………………... 52 Introduction…………………………………………………………………………… 52 Research Design………………………………………………………………………. 53 Participant Selection……….………………………………………………………...... 58 Interview Sites……………….………………………………………………………... 59 Data Sources and Data Collection Procedures ……………………………………..… 59 Data Analysis and Trustworthiness….………………………………………………... 63 Ethical Issues…….……………………………………………………………………. 68

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Summary………….…………………………………………………………………… 70

FINDINGS……………………………………………………………………………… 71 Introduction…………………….……………………………………………………... 71 Vignettes……………………………………………………………………………… 72 Kate…………………………………………………………………………………. 72 Rose…………………………………………………………………………………. 75 Nicole………...……………………………………………………………………... 77 Anne………………………………………………………………………………… 80 Charlene…………………………………………………………………………….. 82 Carol……………………………...………………………………………………… 84 Beatrice……………………………………………………………………………... 86 Chelcy………………………………………………………………………………. 88 Helen………………………………………………………………………………... 90 Marie………………………………………………………………………………... 92 Collective Portrait.......................................................................................................... 94 First Issue Question…………………………………………………………………… 98 Type I Functionings…………….…………………………………………………. 99 Type II Functionings…………………………………………………………...… 107 Type III Functionings………………………………………………………..…… 115 Second Issue Question………………………………………………………………. 119 Avenues…………………………………………………………………………... 120 Barriers…………………………………………………………………..……….. 122 Summary…………………………………………………………………………….. 124

DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS………………………………………………………... 127

Introduction….…………...………………………………………………………….. 127 Overview of Study……...…………………………….……………………………... 128 Discussion of Findings……..………………...……………………………………… 129 Robeyns’Functionings as Demand Sensitivities…………………………………... 130 Dequech’s Influences as Demand Sensitivities………………………………….... 137 Implications for Research…………............………………………………………… 140 Implications for Policy………….…………………………………………………… 142 Implications for Practice..........…..………………………………………………….. 144 Conclusion………...……………..….…………………………..…………………... 145

APPENDIX A…………………………………………………………………………. 148 APPENDIX B…………………………………………………………………………. 150 APPENDIX C…………………………………………………………………………. 151 APPENDIX D…………………………………………………………………………. 153

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APPENDIX E………………………………………………………………………..... 154 APPENDIX F…………………………………………………………………………. 155 APPENDIX G…………………………………………………………………………. 157 APPENDIX H……………………………………………………………………….… 158 REFERENCES………………………………………………………………………... 160 VITA……………………………………………………………………………………169

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LIST OF TABLES Table Page 1. Databases used in Literature Reviewed……………………………………………….37 2. Academic Standing of Participants……………………………………………………96 3. College Financing for Participants….........................................................................116 4. The Case of Rose: College Financing……………………………………………….117 5. The Case of Rose: Non-Education Finances………………………………………...118

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INSTITUTIONAL INFLUENCES AFFECTING THE COLLEGE-GOING DECISIONS OF LOW-INCOME MOTHERS ATTENDING A RURAL MIDWESTERN COMMUNITY COLLEGE

Kristin B. Wilson Dr. Barbara Townsend, Dissertation Supervisor ABSTRACT Education has proven one path out of poverty for low-income single mothers, yet many are not completing and transferring at high rates. Using theories of economic development as the lens for analysis, I sought to study how single mothers used certain government and institutional policies to facilitate their attendance at a rural community college in a Midwestern state, and how these policies shaped the women's choices about college attendance. More specifically, I wanted to understand how the single mothers' college-going decisions related to access, persistence, completion, and transfer were affected by the federal, state, and local policies they used to manage their economic circumstances. This was a qualitative study using a multiple-case study approach. Each participant was an individual case, and there were ten cases studied. For the participants in the study, the Pell Grant was an important avenue of access to the community college; however, it was not sufficient to serve as an avenue of access to the baccalaureate. As well, the lack of access to health coverage, child custody agreements, and an unwillingness to relocate proved to be important barriers to degree completion. Policy and practitioner implications include providing advising at the college

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about the intersections between higher education programs and welfare programs, developing learning communities for single mothers enrolled in higher education, and developing programs that bring a baccalaureate degree to rural areas. Implications for research include using conceptual frameworks that captures the whole life experiences of disadvantaged groups, disaggregating migration research to consider community college students separately, and studying how Work-Study funds are used by institutional context.

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Chapter 1 OVERVIEW Introduction The much touted and debated Spellings Commission report, A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education, has focused attention on the relationship between higher education and economic development in the United States (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). The report claimed: In tomorrow's world a nation's wealth will derive from its capacity to educate, attract, and retain citizens who are able to work smarter and learn faster – making educational achievement ever more important both for individuals and for society writ large. (p. ix).

The report asserted higher education's status quo will not be sufficient to generate increases in human capital necessary for self-sustaining economic development. Therefore, higher education must change to meet the demands of a growing knowledge economy. One of the five goals for higher education listed in the Spellings Commission report is "we want a world-class higher-education system…that contributes to economic prosperity…, and empowers citizens" (p. viii). Higher education is to contribute to the economic growth of the nation by empowering citizens to act in society. Accomplishing the goal of self-sustaining economic growth means considering the ways institutions, like higher education, create market inefficiencies through their rules and norms (North, 1990). For example, the low rate of transfer from community colleges to the baccalaureate sector (e.g., Dougherty & Kienzl, 2006) is an institutional inefficiency. To explain institutional inefficiencies, institutional economists employ theories of economic behaviorism to argue that individuals make decisions based on their institutional context rather than their utility (Campbell, 2004). Institutional economists

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assert that choice is not only bounded by the ability of humans to understand, which is the basic idea behind bounded rationality, it is constrained by institutional norms (North, 1990). Human choice is more like a multiple-choice question where the questions and options are provided by the institution than it is like an open-ended question. Nobel Prize winning economist Douglas North (1990) argued that institutional norms can work against each other, thus inhibiting economic development by constraining human choice. According to North, institutions need to be studied in interaction with other institutions to understand how conflicting institutional norms may be prohibiting economic growth. Economic literature contributes a great deal to understanding economic growth. Pointing to the importance of widely-shared economic growth, economic theorists have concluded that in countries where income is more equally distributed economic growth is greater (Galor & Zeira, 1993; Voitchovsky, 2005). However, this general effect hides complexities that that are important for higher education (Voitchovsky, 2005). For example, using US county data, Fallah and Partridge (2007) found that the link between income inequality and economic growth is positive in metro areas and negative in rural areas. In other words, greater income inequality in metro areas equated to greater economic growth, while greater income inequality in rural areas equated to less economic growth. Fallah and Partridge conclude that policies encouraging growth in human capital (e.g., increased access to higher education) in rural areas will likely have a positive impact on economic growth. In a study using county-level data, Goetz and Rupasingha (2003) calculated the income return on education across states and across metro and non- metro areas. They found that increases in education results in increased income in general, but there are important contextual variations. Dividing the states into the four

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census regions and considering metro and nonmetro differences, they found that in three regions, northeast, northcental, and southern regions, the returns on higher education are twice as large in metro areas as in nonmetro areas. As well, Aghion, Coustan, Hoxby, and Vandenbussche (2006) studied the impact of states' investment in community colleges versus states' investment in baccalaureate institutions and found that investments in community college education resulted in economic growth in rural areas. Research on economic development demonstrates that the relationship between human capital and economic growth is contextual (e.g., Aghion, Coustan, Hoxby, & Vandenbussche, 2006; Keller, 2006; Mamuneas, Savvides, & Stengos, 2006). The contextual nature of economic development means that effective change in higher education will be contextual in nature as well. A broad-sweep approach to change will not ensure self-sustaining growth (Evans, 2004; North, 1990). Specifically, policies that positively affect economic development will target groups of individuals in the greatest need of economic stability (Sen, 1999). In the United States, one such group is low-income mothers. In 2006, 36.5% of single mothers lived at or under the U.S. Census Bureau poverty threshold (CPS, 2007). For a woman with two children and no husband, that threshold was $16,242 of income in 2006 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). As well, 53% of single mothers lived at or under 150% of the poverty threshold (CPS, 2007) which was $24,363 of income (U. S. Census Bureau, 2007). The Spellings Commission addressed single mothers generically through another of the named goals: "we want a system that is accessible to all Americans, throughout their lives" (U.S. Department of Education, 2006, p. viii). For low-income mothers,

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having access to higher education can mean economic stability (Pandey, Zhan, Youngmi, 2006). Adult women are most likely to access higher education through community colleges. Goan and Cunningham (2007) found that at medium-sized community colleges, 79% of the students are over 20 years of age, and 62% of the students are women. In addition, 38% of community college students at medium-sized colleges are independents with dependents (Goan & Cunningham, 2007). However, researchers have demonstrated that adult women who begin at community colleges often fail to persist in college, fail to transfer, and fail to complete a degree (e.g., Dougherty & Kienzl, 2006; Dowd & Coury, 2006; Bailey, Calcagno, Jenkins, Leinbach, & Kienzl, 2006). Specifically, Berkner, He, Mason, and Wheeless (2007) considered degree attainment and persistence through 2006 using 2003-2004 BPS data. Sixty percent of the single parents who enrolled in a 2-year institution in 2003 did not have a degree and were not enrolled in college in 2006. As well, 55% of the married parents who enrolled in a 2- year institution in 2003 did not have a degree and were not enrolled in college in 2006 (Berkner, He, Mason, & Wheeless, 2007). Using IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) data, Bailey, Calcagno, Jenkins, Leinbach, & Kienzl (2006) found that, in the community college sector, institutions with higher proportions of women have lower graduation rates than do institutions with higher proportions of men. Using data from the 1989-1990 NCES and the Beginning Postsecondary Students, Second Follow-up (BPS 90/94), Dowd and Coury (2006) tested the effect of indebtedness on persistence at community colleges. They found that older students who are classified independent are less likely to persist than dependent students. Relative to earning a

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baccalaureate degree, Dougherty and Kienzl (2006) found that older students, especially those with children, are less likely to transfer from the community college to the baccalaureate sector. Although single mothers represent a sizable portion of community college students, they are not completing and transferring at high rates (e.g., Bailey, Calcagno, Jenkins, Leinbach, & Kienzl, 2006). Yet research indicates that higher education can positively affect economic development through educational access for low-income mothers (Pandey, Zhan, Youngmi, 2006). To accomplish the Spellings Commission goal of accessible higher education and economic opportunity through education, more research is needed that considers the contextual variations in the income/growth relationship and the education/income relationship, as well as the impact of these contexts on individual decision-making about college attendance for at-risk groups, such as low-income mothers. Conceptual Framework Implicit in the two Spellings Commission goals of lifelong learning and economic opportunity is the notion of economic development through education. Economic development can be distinguished from economic growth in that growth is confined to increases in gross domestic product (GDP), while development encompasses increases in GDP that are widely-shared and self-sustaining. One conceptual framework geared at achieving economic development is described by Amartya Sen (1999) in Development as Freedom. Sen defines economic development using the term substantive freedoms. Sen wrote, "[T]he usefulness of wealth lies in the things that it allows us to do – the substantive freedoms it helps us achieve" (p. 14). Sen argued that society's institutions

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can be judged by considering the "functionings and capabilities of its weakest members" (p. 132). The distinction between functionings and capabilities is that functionings capture the ways people act in societies and capabilities are the ways people could act. If a country is experiencing increases in GNP, but its poorest members do not have the capacity to get healthcare when it is needed, then the country is not experiencing economic development. Sen used access to education and healthcare extensively as examples of substantive freedoms or capabilities and functionings, as well as access to the credit market (e.g., student loans) and access to employment that raises one above poverty status. However, Sen has been criticized for underspecifying the capabilities and functionings he sees as critical to society. Several economists have worked to specify Sen's capabilities and functionings (Robeyns, 2003). One such specification was developed by Ingrid Robeyns, a feminist economist. She delineated fourteen capabilities or functionings and classified the fourteen into three types. While all fourteen will be named and described in Chapter 2, three will be briefly described here. Type I capabilities and functionings are those intrinsically desirable to all humans, such as shelter and health. Type II capabilities and functionings are those people choose to achieve, such as education and leisure. Type III capabilities are those that are most likely to be unequally distributed based on class, gender, and race, such as political empowerment and domestic work. Robeyns is most concerned with gender inequalities, but my study confounds gender and class in that all the participants are financially-strained women. Sen (1999) also contended that social policy can enact freedoms or opportunities. He wrote, "[P]ublic policy…is the art of the possible" (p. 132). Sen's framework is not

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specific enough to capture the relationship between the policy and individual decision- making. However, another institutional economist, David Dequech (2006), has described three influences institutions have on individuals: restrictive, cognitive, and motivational. The restrictive function of institutions is their role in constraining economic behaviors (Dequech, 2006). For instance in welfare reform, when the Personal Responsibility and Workforce Opportunity Act passed in 1996, it was premised on a "work-first" philosophy which necessarily discouraged or constrained the choice of education (e.g., Shaw, 2004). Norms are a group's rules of behavior that derive from values (Henslin, 2006). In the case of welfare reform, the norm was work. Education, by contrast, is considered counter to this norm and discouraged. The cognitive function of institutions refers to their influence on individual thinking (Dequech, 2006). There are two aspects of this function. One is the information provided through institutional policies and rules that guide individual thinking about the behavior of others. For example, articulation agreements encourage students to make particular curricular choices with the expectation that the chosen courses will transfer as indicated by the policies. The second aspect of the cognitive function is the influence that institutions have over an individual's perception of reality. For example, community college transfer students sometimes indicate that it is difficult to make friends at the receiving institution because of its large classes (Townsend & Wilson, 2006). Transfer students say that at their community college they form friendships through coursework, while at the baccalaureate institution friendships form through extracurricular activities. These contrasting institutional norms influence the transfer students' understanding of reality at the baccalaureate institution (Townsend & Wilson, 2006).

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Finally, the motivational function of institutions refers to their influence on an individual's goals or "the ends that people pursue" (Dequech, 2006). For example, if a student has the perception that there is greater job opportunity and income potential in being a nurse rather than an emergency medical technician, the student might well choose nursing as a major. Although Dequech's (2006) institutional influences overlap with one another, they are useful for thinking about the ways institutions influence individuals and individual decision-making relative to college attendance. Review of Literature Few studies consider mothers in higher education directly. More likely, this population is a subcategory within a larger study. While the literature review in Chapter 2 is a more comprehensive view of relevant literature, in this chapter the review is confined to the literature in which adult women in higher education are the target population. Using the 2000 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), Pandey, Zhan, Youngmi (2006) studied the impact of education on poverty for mothers, both single and married. The authors found that having a degree significantly reduces the likelihood of poverty for both single and married mothers. Thus they conclude that their "study shows that we can reduce poverty among women with children through a college education especially among women that are motivated to pursue their education" (p. 500). Using the 1993 Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) data, Zhan and Pandey (2004) found that among single mothers having an education significantly improves economic status. London (2006) used the same database as did Pandey, Zhan, Youngmi (2006) and noted that among welfare recipients welfare recidivism is significantly reduced by a college degree. As well, Attewell and Lavin (2007) found that some applied associate's degrees,

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like nursing, have a greater payoff, in terms of earnings, than do baccalaureate degrees. In addition, they found that there is some economic payoff for women who attended college, but did not complete a degree. In sum, the research indicates that having an education improves the economic circumstance for mothers. However, women do not always perceive themselves as welcome in postsecondary institutions. In a mixed-methods study of 69 low-income women enrolled in an educational training program, Bullock and Limbert (2003) found that the women expected college to result in a middle-class status; however, they were uncertain that postsecondary education was open to them and their children. The women in this study did not see postsecondary education as accessible. Although a number of studies indicate that degree attainment is low among adult women (e.g., Alfonso, 2006), there is some evidence that the low rates can be explained by the short time frames under study. In a longitudinal study, Attewell and Lavin (2007) used CUNY (City University of New York) and NLSY data to consider the impact of education on disadvantaged women. The CUNY data are survey responses from 2000 women who attended the college from 1970's to 2000's. Of the CUNY cohort, 71% of the women earned a degree within the thirty-year time frame of the study. Attewell and Lavin argued that this high rate of degree completion suggests that capturing a longer time frame might be important for understanding degree attainment among adults. Although Attewell and Lavin (2007) found that degree attainment rates are higher if the time frame under study is longer, they conceded that women from the most disadvantaged families are less likely to complete a degree than their counterparts from wealthier backgrounds. This finding coincides with those of Alfonso (2006) and

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Dougherty and Kienzl (2006). Taken together, the evidence shows that mothers and their children benefit from postsecondary education, but that postsecondary education is difficult to access for low-income mothers. Mothers seem to understand the importance of postsecondary education for their children. It is often the desire to improve life for their children that encourages low- income mothers to try higher education. For example, Haleman (2004), in an ethnographic study of 10 mothers receiving public support and enrolled in higher education, found the women wanted to model educational attainment for their children. As well, Jennings (2004) conducted a qualitative study of young welfare recipients in college to determine how these women imagine themselves, especially in contrast to negative images of women in poverty. Jennings concluded that education was the path used by the women to resist negative images, and that the women were motivated by the desire to create a better life for their children. In another qualitative study, Luttrell (1997) taught a remedial education class and interviewed adult women returning to college. Many of the mothers indicated that they were returning specifically to be a good example for their kids or to demonstrate their worth as an individual to their kids or spouse. These studies indicate that mothers often are motivated to seek an education because they want to improve the lives of their children. Attewell and Lavin (2007) tested this reasoning and found that mothers pass on their educational advantage to their children through their parenting practices and through the later educational attainment by their children. Unfortunately, low-income mothers do not always view postsecondary education as accessible despite being strongly motivated by the desire to improve their children's lives. Attewell and Lavin (2007) observed that "our statistics represent in the barest

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outline the complex struggles of many individuals" (p. 7). Research that captures the complexities in more detail may be able to contribute a fuller understanding of college- going decisions amongst low-income mothers in higher education. Purpose of Study Using theories of economic development as the lens for analysis, I sought to study how single mothers used certain government and institutional policies to facilitate their attendance at a rural community college in a Midwestern state, and how these policies shaped the women's choices about college attendance. More specifically, I wanted to understand how the single mothers' college-going decisions related to access, persistence, completion, and transfer were affected by the federal, state, and local policies they used to manage their economic circumstances. Research Design This was a qualitative study using a multiple-case study approach. Case studies are bounded systems (Creswell, 2007; Stake, 2005). As such, this multiple-case study has three boundaries. First, all of the women in the study were single mothers for some portion of their community college enrollment period. Second, all of the women in the study are low-income. Third, all of the participants were enrolled or are enrolled in a rural community college. By using multiple cases, I could replicate findings across cases through literal replication and theoretical replication (Yin, 2003). Using theory-based sampling, the population was entirely made-up of low-income mothers in higher education (Patton, 2002). Seidman's (2006) three-interview series provided the basic design for data collection.

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Data analysis began with an individual-level logic model (Yin, 2003) for each case. Using Stake's (2006) worksheet approach for cross-case analysis, I performed an issue-level analysis between cases. Data were triangulated through three types of triangulation: data triangulation, investigator triangulation, and within-method triangulation. Research Questions Stake (1995) advised case study researchers to construct issue questions and information questions. Issue questions evolve from the literature and the researcher, but issue questions also evolve as the study proceeds. The issue questions beginning this study are: 1. What is the nature of the capabilities that low-income mothers believe they will gain or do gain by attending the community college? 2. How do federal and state policies directed at low-income mothers give rise to institutional influences that create barriers to or avenues of access, persistence, completion, and transfer in higher education? Information questions lead to the descriptive details necessary for analysis on issues to occur (Stake, 1995). In this study, decisions about how and when to gather responses to the information questions were informed by Seidman's (2006) three- interview sequence. The broad information questions were: 1. What was your life like before attending college? 2. How did you come to attend the community college? 3. What policies have helped or hindered you attend college? 4. What does college attendance mean to you?

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5. How do you expect life to be different after college attendance? Definitions The following definitions were used in the study. Demand sensitivities: The personal preferences that impact the demand for a good (Gottheil, 2002). Capabilities: What people are able to do in society or to be in society (Nussbaum, 2003; Robeyns, 2003; Sen, 1999). Economic development: A sustainable increase in the standard-of-living across a nation's population, often measured by employment, income, healthcare, and education (Adelman, 2000). Economic growth: An increase in gross domestic product (GDP), or an increase in the value of goods and services produced by an economy (Gottheil, 2002). Functionings: What people actually do or become in a society (Robeyns, 2003). Institution: "[H]umanly devised constraints that structure political, economic and social interaction" (North, 1991, p. 97). Substantive freedoms: Freedoms that enhance the quality of life, specifically access to education, healthcare, employment, and the credit market (Sen, 1999). The sum of all human capabilities constitutes the substantive freedom to live a life that an individual has reason to value (Nussbaum, 2003; Robeyns, 2003; Sen, 1999). For Sen (1999), substantive freedoms are socially just, or unconstrained by race, gender, or class. Limitations The findings of this study have limited transferability. The participants were drawn from a rural Midwestern region, and all of the participants have attended or are

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attending the same community college. As a result, state policies, institutional policies, and state and institutional interpretations of federal policies impacted the functionings of the women who participated in the study; however, the same study in another state might result in different functionings. Given the nature of the study, broad generalizations across the population of low-income mothers could not arise from this study; rather, generalizations involved policy analysis and theoretical notions (Stake, 1995). Another limitation involves Type III functionings which are those that are likely to be unequally distributed according to race, class, and gender (Robeyns, 2003). All the participants in this study were both female and low-income. As a result, gender and class are conflated in the study. It is impossible to tell which functionings are limited because of gender and which functionings are limited because of class. Finally, the study was based on economic literature that presumes a causal relationship between increases in human capital and economic growth (e.g., GAO, 2007). Although much research has demonstrated that this relationship exists, focusing on these two variables may hide other complexities (Voitchovsky, 2005). For instance, job creation strategies must be aligned with educational strategies to create the right economic mix so that economic growth will occur. Significance of the Study The findings of this study have implications for researchers and policy-makers. Economic development through education has the greatest potential when targeting those groups in the most need. Rural poverty is high and negatively associated with economic growth (Fallah & Partridge, 2007; Fisher, 2007); however, postsecondary education can promote economic growth (e.g., Voitchovsky, 2005). Single mothers experience high

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rates of poverty (CPS, 2007). Unfortunately, degree attainment rates are low among single mothers (e.g., Attewell & Lavin, 2007; Alfonso, 2006). Past research has indicated that when mothers do complete a degree, their economic circumstances improve (e.g., Pandey, Zhan, Youngmi, 2006). Understanding the relationship between the college- going decisions made by low-income single mothers and the federal, state, and local policies they use to manage their economic circumstances pointed to policy interventions or policy changes that may promote college degree attainment among single mothers. In addition, the findings pointed to important avenues for future research concerning disadvantaged populations, including single mothers. Summary One clear message from the Spellings Commission report is that the economic stability of the United States depends upon increasing college enrollment and graduation (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). The Spellings Commission's goals of lifelong learning and economic stability work in tandem. The report focuses on what institutions must do in terms of goals, but ignores various government policies affecting low-income adult students' decisions to attend college or maintain enrollment. Poverty among single mothers is high, but research has demonstrated that it can be alleviated by college degree attainment (e.g., Pandey, Zhan, Youngmi, 2006). This study illustrates how single mothers used certain government and institutional policies to facilitate their attendance at a rural community college in a Midwestern state, and how these policies shaped the women's choices about college attendance.

Full document contains 179 pages
Abstract: Education has proven one path out of poverty for low-income single mothers, yet many are not completing and transferring at high rates. Using theories of economic development as the lens for analysis, I sought to study how single mothers used certain government and institutional policies to facilitate their attendance at a rural community college in a Midwestern state, and how these policies shaped the women's choices about college attendance. More specifically, I wanted to understand how the single mothers' college-going decisions related to access, persistence, completion, and transfer were affected by the federal, state, and local policies they used to manage their economic circumstances. This was a qualitative study using a multiple-case study approach. Each participant was an individual case, and there were ten cases studied. For the participants in the study, the Pell Grant was an important avenue of access to the community college; however, it was not sufficient to serve as an avenue of access to the baccalaureate. As well, the lack of access to health coverage, child custody agreements, and an unwillingness to relocate proved to be important barriers to degree completion. Policy and practitioner implications include providing advising at the college about the intersections between higher education programs and welfare programs, developing learning communities for single mothers enrolled in higher education, and developing programs that bring a baccalaureate degree to rural areas. Implications for research include using conceptual frameworks that captures the whole life experiences of disadvantaged groups, disaggregating migration research to consider community college students separately, and studying how Work-Study funds are used by institutional context.