A large crowd gathered Saturday night (Aug. 18) at the Fort Smith home of Jenny and Josh Kilgore to raise awareness and funds for the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Crawford, Franklin and Sebastian Counties.
As the name notes, the program provides money to single parents attending college. Full-time students with a minimum of 12 hours per semester receive $750, part-time students with 9-11 hours per semester receive $625, part-time students with 6-8 hours per semester collect $437.50, and those enrolled in summer school receive $250. (Link here for a PDF providing more detail about program qualifications.)
The Single Parent Scholarship Fund in the Fort Smith region began in the fall of 2004, and was launched by the United Way of Fort Smith Area. The United Way briefly housed the organization and supported the part-time director.
Linda Kaufenberg, executive director of the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Crawford, Franklin and Sebastian Counties, said during the event that they received almost 60 applications for scholarships – the most ever. She said the program is likely to award 57 scholarships to single parents who live in the three counties.
“We had the largest group we’ve ever had apply,” Kaufenberg said. “More men and women, with the economy the way it is, are making the decision to go to college.”
Kaufenberg, who was hired for the job in September 2009, said the program ended the spring semester with a 95% retention rate, meaning 95% of the scholarship participants either graduated or maintained their eligibility.
“Many of the recipients are the first in their families to go to college. ... We really believe we are changing the dynamics of these families,” Kaufenberg told the crowd.
In Arkansas, the Single Parent Scholarship program was created in 1990 and was based on similar programs in Benton and Washington counties. According to the SPSF website for Arkansas, the program goal “is to assist low-income single parents to complete their post-secondary education in preparation for skilled employment.”
The state organization, based in Springdale, operates through a 21-member board, and has affiliates providing assistance in 70 of Arkansas’ 75 counties.
According to the ASPSF, all the Arkansas affiliates combined to provide – as of May 8, 2012 – a total of 30,738 scholarships worth $17,032,109 since 1990.
“A comprehensive recipient follow-up study completed in 2010 revealed an 82% retention and graduation rate and a 70% employment rate at above poverty-level income among working graduates,” according to ASPSF information. “The report also found that nearly 32% of students who graduated from post-secondary programs were continuing in school to further their education.”
The ASPSF also reports that almost one in five Arkansas families have a single-parent as head of the household. Of those, 80% are estimated to be single mothers and 43% are estimated to have family incomes below the poverty line.
“We believe single-parent families that are led by skilled and educated mothers and fathers have a much greater opportunity to achieve self sufficiency and a better quality of life, generation after generation,” notes program literature.