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LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Community college graduation rates are poor, but they’re even worse for single mothers. Only 8 percent of single mothers enrolled in an associate or bachelor’s degree program graduate within six years, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

A new initiative announced Wednesday by former second lady Jill Biden hopes to improve that rate. Biden, a full-time English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, said the Community College Women Succeed initiative will help colleges learn how to help adult women and single mothers graduate from two-year institutions across the country. The initiative was announced during the Achieving the Dream national conference.

“We will listen to women who know what they need more than anyone else,” Biden said. “We’re hosting regional roundtables with students and working with advocates across the nation to figure out how to create the best, most effective support system we can.”

Karen Stout, president of Achieving the Dream, said the listening sessions will help educators and higher education researchers develop policies and programs that help colleges redesign their campuses to meet the needs of female students who are also parents. Achieving the Dream and the Biden Foundation are jointly supporting the initiative, which does not include any funding.

“Once we have the students' voices and more of the data and policy issues lined up, we want to use that with our community colleges to help them identify women on their campuses who need these additional supports,” Stout said.

The number of single mothers attending two-and four-year colleges more than doubled between 1999 and 2011 and reached 2.1 million, or 11 percent of all undergraduates, as of 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, according to IWPR. The growing number of parents in college also caught the attention of Congress, which last year increased funding to the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program (CCAMPIS) from $15 million to $50 million. The program provides grants to colleges that support childcare on campus and helps more than 5,000 student parents nationwide.

After the announcement, Biden's staff attended the first roundtable at Los Angeles Harbor College for a private discussion with a group of current and former students.

“There isn’t one thing that’s going to suddenly make balancing work and childcare and education and pursuing your career simple,” Biden said. “But for the women who are willing to give their all, who are willing to fight for the futures they want and deserve, we can do more.”

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