How Families Constrain and Facilitate Low-Wage Working Women's Pursuit of Higher Education

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW1.2.04 (Tower One)
Francine Meryl Deutsch, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA
Sarah Joseph, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA
Madison Richards, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA
The current study focused on the ways in which family facilitates and interferes with the pursuit of higher education of American female preschool teachers, who are among the increasing demographic of nontraditional students (>23 years old) in the United States. American preschool teachers are predominantly female, low-income workers who are encouraged, but often not required, to obtain higher education (Herzenberg et al., 2005). Women often defer university because of family obligations: they accommodate husbands’ careers, care for children, take care of relatives, and are overloaded with paid and unpaid work (Deutsch & Schmertz, 2011; Hostetler et al., 2007; Jacobs & King, 2002; Sweet & Moen, 2007).  Nonetheless, families motivate and support nontraditional female students; mothers desire to be positive role models for their children, and families provide financial, academic, and emotional support (Deutsch & Schmertz, 2011; Sealey-Ruiz, 2007; Vaccaro & Lovell, 2010). For our study, preschool teachers from 5 childcare centers in Massachusetts, USA were interviewed at two points in time (2007 and 2009). Questions addressed the factors that helped and hindered their pursuit of higher education. Participants included 33 female teachers (10 Caucasian, 22 persons of color, 1 no response), with ages ranging from 23-65 (M = 42.72, SD = 12.36). They lived in diverse households; only three lived in nuclear families. The transcribed interviews were coded using NVivo, a qualitative program that facilitated the thematic analysis of family effects on the pursuit of higher education. Themes in the interviews revealed family effects of (a) constraint: family formation; lack of childcare; parenting challenges; time constraints; financial constraints; discouragement; and problematic relationships;  (b) support: emotional; inspiration from and for the family; practical; and child’s [older] age; and (c) challenges that did not ultimately interfere with education.  Additionally, our results highlight that family influence extends to siblings, nieces, nephews, parents, grandparents, aunts, and cousins, which supports Gerstel's (2011) argument that American family research should address the importance of extended families. Attention to the constraints and supports uncovered could promote institutional programs (e.g., free childcare) to enable greater access to higher education for the growing number of nontraditional students.