By Zeynab Day
Student Writer, EKU Communications & Marketing
It’s 6 a.m. and Eastern Kentucky University senior Carla Couch has already tied two pairs of shoes, brushed two sets of teeth and packed two lunches. After a final glance around her living room, she is ready to start the day.
She takes her son, Rusty, by the hand and heads off to begin what is typically a 16-hour day of parenting, school and work.
Couch, a social justice major and student worker for the EKU Upward Bound program, said single parents face challenges such as childcare, income, housing and finding employment that allows for class and family time.
She joined the Education Pays Center at Eastern as a freshman to help address those challenges and said she would not have been able to attend college without it.
“The Education Pays Center gave me the opportunity to provide a better life for my son while going to school,” Couch said. “I am able to spend time with him without having to feel guilty about striving for an education.
“EPC lessens the struggle I would have if I didn’t have this support,” she said.
The Education Pays program is designed to help single parents maintain their childcare and work in jobs related to their field. It also also provides students with academic guidance and emotional support.
The program began in 1998 and has grown from a handful of students to an average of 50 to 60 per semester. Students have a high success rate for gradation and employment. Last year EPC had a 94 percent retention rate and the median GPA was 2.95, said EPC Director Robyn Moreland.
“You can still be a parent and be a professional someday,” Moreland said. “A lot of what we do is helping our student understand that about themselves.
All participants at EPC must also be in the Kentucky Transitional Program, or K-TAP, which is designed to help low-income individuals find employment through a number of initiatives. Participants are required to work 20 to 30 hours per week and in turn receive state subsidies and maintain childcare assistance, Moreland said.
“The number one misconception about people on welfare in Kentucky is that they don’t have to work when receiving benefits,” Moreland said. “The students in the EPC program are some of the hardest workers I have ever seen.”
The monthly subsidies are less than $500 for most participants. Although helpful, it may not cover expenses such as housing. The Education Pays Center helps close the gap by providing students with work study positions that are career related and teach them job readiness skills. They earn minimum wage and meet their K-TAP participation hours. Funding comes from the Kentucky Works Program.
“I’ve been in EPC for three years,” said Kennedy Parks, an early childhood education major from Richmond. “It gives me a steady income that I can bring in to make sure my daughter has clothes, food and that I have transportation back and forth.”
Parks had her daughter at age 17, finished high school and immediately started college. She was the same age as most of her classmates but faced different challenges as a mother. She met a student on her transit bus route who recommended the Education Pays Center and enrolled.
As a freshman, Parks was new to parenting and school and found guidance from the advisers and students at EPC. The program requires students to complete mentoring activities with other EPC students.
The mentoring activities helped Parks get to know other EPC members better and gain insights into how other parents balance school, work and family. She finds comfort talking to others with similar issues.
“There are older moms here and I can get advice from them.” Parks said. “I am able to relate to them better than the average college student.”
The Education Pays Center also allows students to work around their class schedules, and new students are able to use some of the allotted hours to promote successful study skills and help students develop academic discipline. This also gives parents time to finish school work on campus and opens up more time for them to spend with their children in the evenings.
Tosha Haynes, psychology major from Corbin, said she worked 60 hours per week and had little time to spend with her children before she joined EPC. She is now able to make time to drop off her 14-year-old son at his weekly ROTC and marching band practices.
“As parents our kids need us,” Haynes said. “We are the reason these programs are in place.”
“EPC gives me the time I need to be very supportive of my son’s goals in this crucial time in his life,” she said.
Programs similar to EPC were once common on Kentucky campuses, but budget cuts have forced closure of many. Education Pays students are often drawn to Eastern for the program and what it has to offer single parents, Moreland said.
Couch says the Education Pays Center has not only helped her out financially but has given her direction and helped her reach her goals as a student.
“Sometimes things get difficult and you need people that believe in you and help you find ways to succeed,” Couch said. “EPC has helped me in building professionalism, work ethic and with networking.
I think EPC is one of my strongest foundations of support in my education.” Couch added. “I wouldn’t have been able to go to college without it.”
For more information visit the Education Pays office at Weaver 202, call 859-622-6684 or visit www.epc.eku.edu.