Westmoreland Vice President Champions Low-Income Single Mothers

Sydney Beeler, Ed.D., vice president of Enrollment Management at Westmoreland County Community College, has become a powerful advocate for low-income single mothers trying to better themselves and their families through education. She has presented the findings of her recent research on the subject at several recent conferences.

One stepping stone she’s found for these parents on their pathway to education attainment is the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) Program, which was established by the state Department of Human Services in the early 2000s. It allows parents on cash assistance to meet federal work requirements by enrolling in one of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges.

In her research, Dr. Beeler identified several overarching themes. Interestingly, the participants’ children presented both barriers to their mother’s education, yet were also the primary motivator for educational persistence and success.

“I wouldn’t be back in school if it wasn’t for my baby. It wouldn’t have happened at all. It wasn’t even in my plan for the future. I kept saying I’d go back to college, but it never happened,” said one study participant named Ariel. “…[Now] I wake up, I see the smiling face looking at me and I’m like, if I don’t get off of welfare, she’s gonna want for everything.”

In addition to the Department of Human Services KEYS Program, which is administered at the community college level, study participants also found support networks, ACT 101 and on-campus resources helpful. Alternatively, some found the admissions and enrollment process to be challenging, as well as navigating financial aid. Throughout it all, KEYS Program advisors were there to assist eligible students.

“My KEYS advisors definitely helped me the most at school,” said Lori, study participant. “I remember Mary keeping my son in her office one day so I could go to class.”

This year Dr. Beeler has presented her research findings at the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) Summit in June and Pennsylvania Department of Education and Department of Human Services Parent Pathways Summit in April.