Within miles of the State Capitol, 60,000 women and girls live in poverty. The way out is a college degree, but for many women the path to success in college is filled with obstacles. The Aurora Women and Girls Foundation is focused on finding solutions.  The foundation’s Aurora Report and its concentration on college completion initiatives was the highlight recently at the Legislative Office Building where the organization hosted a forum, “Building Futures for Women and Girls.”

The Aurora Report reveals that a woman in Greater Hartford who attains a bachelor’s degree earns about $47,000 annually, while a woman with a high school diploma earns only half as much. Education is the most significant answer to achieving financial stability and improving the lives of families. However, in Hartford county, only 33 percent of all women, 17 percent of African-American women and 13 percent of Latinas get bachelor’s degrees.

Knowing that lack of higher education exacerbates the wage gap — which is wider for women working in lower wage jobs — Aurora convened the region’s education thought leaders and policy makers to discuss programs and collaborations that work.

The forum, with opening remarks from State Rep. Matthew Ritter (D-Hartford), was sparked by The Aurora Report – the first study of its kind on the status of women and girls in Greater Hartford. The assessment showed that investment in college retention programs reduces the rate of welfare dependency by 88 percent.  With college retention and graduation rates floundering for first generation, minority and low-income women, Aurora is investing $100,000 annually in some of the region’s best college retention projects such as Women Investing in Secure Education at Goodwin College and Success to Graduation at the University of Saint Joseph.

Challenges such as affordability, child-care and transportation were cited by educators and students as deterrents to degrees. Strategies including resiliency coaching and the development of individual life plans and goals, highlighted by Deborah Ullman, CEO, YWCA Hartford Region, are making a difference.   The former provost of the CT Board of Regents, Estela Lopez, spoke of the concerns of first generation college students who “feel like outsiders and that they don’t belong.”

Gena Glickman, President of Manchester Community College, declared during the forum that, “It is not discretionary to go to college.” MCC computer science major Aeriel Denmark struggled to attend college for seven years. Today, with the assistance of the Women In STEM program at MCC, she sees herself eventually earning advanced degrees at MIT.

Beyond the college success forum, The Aurora Foundation believes that  we can be a catalyst for change and  make earning a college degree an attainable goal for all women and girls in Greater Hartford. We urge you to join us in making this a reality.

To watch the Aurora College Success forum online, click here. To learn more about the Aurora Foundation and The Aurora Report, go to www.AuroraFoundation.org.

Karen Jarmoc is the Board Chair of the Aurora Foundation and Chief Executive Officer of the CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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