Womens Health

Offer to Teen Girls-Don't Get Pregnant, Get Cash for College

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There's a controversial program in North Carolina that gives money to girls upon their enrollment in college, with the only stipulation that they not get pregnant while in the program. If that happens, the deal is off.

Called "College Bound Sisters," it began in 1997 as the health department in Guilford County worked to combat a high rate of teen pregnancy. They initially targeted girls aged 12-16 whose sisters were teenaged mothers.

"When I was doing maternity nursing," Dr. Hazel Brown of the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro and the program's co-founder said, "the girls would always say, 'It hasn't been such a big deal in my family, because my sister already had a baby.'"

They eventually came up with the idea to give money to the girls for college -- a dollar a day for every day they were in the program. In addition to money, the girls learn about fellowship, goal-setting, age-appropriate sexual education and getting into college.

"College Bound Sisters helped me stay focused on school and to understand the consequences of getting pregnant," said 17-year-old Mia Hubbard. "Becoming a teen parent would slow me down or stop me from going to college. That's what happened to my sister."

Hubbard has been in the program for six years, and will receive $2000 when she starts at Wake Forest next fall.

The program does have its critics. Abstinence is not required of participants -- the program offers information on both birth control and safe sex, which doesn't sit well with those who support abstinence-only education. Others believe the government should not pay teens to do what's in their own self-interest.

Indeed, many of the girls who join the program initially are motivated by the money. But they stay, Brown says, because of the support they receive and the opportunity to get a college education. "You can't work toward a negative," she says, "so saying 'Don't get pregnant' isn't good enough. This program gives them something to work toward."

College Bound Sisters has been very successful. Only six girls of the 125 enrolled for six months or longer have become pregnant. About 40 have already finished high school, and 10 have graduated from college.

Programs like this also save taxpayers money. Teen pregnancies cost $9.1 billion annually, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, or around $500,000 for each teen pregnancy for health care and welfare. College Bound Sisters costs just $75,000 a year to operate.

"When you can prevent a pregnancy, you've more than paid for a program like this," says Brown.

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