Allison and Ashley

Mom and daughter struggle to stay in college during economic uncertainty.

By Cindy Von Quednow Sep 03, 2009

September 3, 2009

Allison Greene, 44, credits her daughter Ashley Winston, 23, as her inspiration for returning to college last year. Winston, in turn, calls her mother the inspiration for continuing her studies as a graduate student at Cal State East Bay.

She “has shown me that you can do anything as long as you have a passion for it and you commit yourself,” says Ashley of her mother.  

The Black mother and daughter duo are hopeful their relationship will help them survive the toll the recession is beginning to take on their educational options. They face similar challenges as they try to stay in college during tough economic times.

Allison and Ashley attend community and state college in California, two of the public college systems hit hardest by the state’s budget cuts. As California faces a $26 billion deficit, students in higher education are seeing increases in tuition and fees as schools try to fill their own budget gaps.

The hardships for Allison and Ashley have come in different ways.

Earlier this year, a glitch in the financial aid system at Berkeley Community College, where Allison studies, stalled her from getting her grant check on time. While she was waiting for her check, Allison couldn’t manage her bills, let alone her school expenses. Although professors helped out students affected by the glitch, Allison’s lights were turned off because she couldn’t pay the bill. In the middle of this financial crisis, her mother got severely ill and passed away.

Her daughter Ashley is struggling with a similar bleak situation.

She can’t find a job just as she needs to pay tuition for her graduate work in speech communication. She also has $45,000 in loans that her mother helped her take out to pay for her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Xavier University in Louisiana, where she graduated last year.

Ashley’s been looking for a job for six months but has only found very short temporary work. With rent and bills to pay and no car, seeking out work has been even harder.

Yet through their crises, Allison and Ashley continually keep a positive attitude about themselves and each other, and both say they will continue going to school no matter what.

The two naturally support each other in their educational goals.

“One of the prototypes of success [in going back to school] is having a loved one or family member in school who inspires you,” said Pamela Harris, a documentary film maker who is working on a film about Black adults returning to school. “Allison is inspired by her daughter, which is something that can happen. It’s almost as though the love for their child allows them entry into that next step in their own lives.”

Even as she struggles to pay for basic necessities like electricity, Allison is passionate about finishing her associate degree in business office technology and one day running her own company.

“This economic disaster is trying to make it hard for me to go to school, but I’m going to do it,” insisted Allison. “I don’t care if I have to pick up cans and bottles, I’m going keep at it.”

Even with the loss of her mother, Allison maintained a positive attitude, calling it a blessing to have been by her mother’s side during her last moments. She also credits her time in school as a way to cope with her loss.

“I thank God for school. It made the transition a little bit easier,” said Allison, who dropped out of high school as a teenager. “School has given me more confidence, I feel more empowered and I have a reason to get up in the morning.”

During the summer, Allison took summer courses at the community college, had a job on campus and also continued with a mentorship program. She has even encouraged other relatives to return to school as well.

“I told them, ‘if I can do it at 44, you can too,’” she said.

Ashley has noticed the change in her mother’s attitude since she returned to school last year. “My mom is a happier person since starting school, and I support anything that makes her happy,” commented Ashley. “Sometimes she gets discouraged but I know she’s going to do it.”

Her strong relationship with her mother is the key and the esteem they have for one another is something that helps both mother and daughter during times of turmoil.

“As adults, we usually see a different side of our parents, and my mom has become such a dynamic person, it is interesting to see her now as a mother, daughter and friend,” said Ashley.  

Cindy Von Quednow is an editorial intern with ColorLines.