Pathways Program for Single Mothers Earns $100,000+ in Prestigious Grants

A partnership between the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona and Pima Community College called Pathways is garnering national attention with the news that it is receiving a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grant as well as the national Rise Prize award. 

Launched in January, Pathways enables single mothers to earn a credit-bearing Career & Technical Education certificate, preparing them for careers in growing fields that pay a living wage. The program was designed with classes during the K-12 school day to make it possible for single mothers to attend while their children are in school, or receive childcare scholarships for kids age 0-5 through First Things First – Quality First initiative. The program, funded by The David and Lura Lovell Foundation, the ECMC Foundation, and the Governor’s office, also provides a living stipend, transportation assistance, and emergency funding.

Because of the innovation and opportunity created by Pathways, Tucson-based Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona is one of nine women’s foundations selected for an 18-month effort with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Women’s Funding Network to increase support and resources necessary to advance economic mobility among women and girls. The grant makes WFSA a regional ‘Women’s Economic Mobility Hub’ that focuses on the intersection of education, childcare, and income.

Pathways has also been named a winner of the national Rise Prize award, which invests in innovative solutions for student parents, with an emphasis on alternative paths and nontraditional solutions for marginalized people. 

Some of the first participants have called the program life-changing. 

“I cannot wait for graduation and then finally be able to work in the field and put everything I’ve learned to use,” said Penny Fox, single mother and Pathways participant. “I love the fact that I am becoming a better mother to my two children because going to my classes every day and learning and getting good grades, I am securing a great future for the three of us.”

The program employs the nationally-recognized Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (IBEST) model, which integrates basic skills instruction, wraparound supports and workforce readiness into college Certificate programs. IBEST brings an Adult Education Instructor into the classroom to co-teach with the CTE faculty, supporting deeper learning and accelerating student success. An essential part of this collaborative model is the holistic approach to serving students, leading to high completion rates and more learners reaching their educational and career goals.

Pathways was developed in conjunction with researchers from the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Arizona, where their prior research informed selection of the CTE programs, identified in the study “Women’s Work: Realities and Possibilities for Arizona.” According to the report released by WFSA, investing in training or education for low-income single mothers coupled with childcare will positively impact family economic independence and generate cost-savings for the state. When a family achieves economic independence, the state can save nearly $20,000 per year per family from parents who no longer need public assistance, not to mention increased potential for State tax revenue.

In companion research, The Relationship of Economic Independence and Access to Childcare for Single Moms, WFSA also found that while low-income single mothers in the Arizona labor force are poised to benefit from education or training coupled with childcare, the cost of childcare is prohibitive at $836 per month – more than the average cost to rent an apartment in Arizona.

“We designed Pathways with single moms in mind and tried to address the barriers they have to secondary education,” said Dr. Amalia Luxardo, CEO of WFSA. “The high cost of childcare alone can make pursuing secondary education impossible for many families, so by scheduling classes during the school day and providing childcare for the little ones, going back to school becomes a real possibility.”

The $95,000 grant from the Gates Foundation and the $50,000 Rise Prize will be used to support financial assistance for the participants, staffing, and research. 

About the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona 

The Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona (WFSA) is committed to achieving social, political and economic change that empowers women and girls in Southern Arizona and beyond. WFSA empowers women and girls through research, advocacy, grantmaking and leadership development. For more information, visit

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