University of Arkansas Online & SPSFNWA Recipients

Blog Written by by Heidi Wells, University of Arkansas Global Campus

In 2022, the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas helped 203 residents pay for their education. The nonprofit organization awarded $866,160 in scholarships and served 355 children of recipients with additional services that year, according to its website.

“Many of our recipients are coming to us during a very hard season in their life and they are struggling to make ends meet,” says Krystle Goodwin, CCSP,  communications and marketing director of the organization. “They work so hard in school because they know in the end it will help give them and their children a better life.”

“The average age of our recipients is 32; many have been married before but are no longer married and may have received some higher education in the past but have not completed a program,” Goodwin continues. “Many are working full time while simultaneously attending school.”

The fund has been providing assistance to single parents for nearly 40 years. As of 2022, it has awarded $16.9 million to nearly 21,200 single parents in Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties. It covers not only academic degrees, but also job training programs.

“A college degree isn’t desired by everyone, especially those looking to improve their skills and get into the workforce quickly,” says Gina Johns, CCSP, program director for Washington and Madison counties. “We have a diverse population and honor the different paths single parents take to improve the lives of themselves and their children.”

Goodwin says the program initially started with the funding of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees to a handful of moms living in Washington and Benton counties and was the vision of the late Marjorie Marugg-Wolfe and Ralph Nesson.

“In recent years, we have seen the need for more workforce development training, and looking to meet the need in our community we decided to expand our scope of funding,” she says.

Not only does the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas help pay tuition and training program costs, it offers assistance in other ways that can help keep a parent in school or improve quality of life for a family. This includes behavioral health counseling services for recipients and their children, tutoring, help with resume writing and interviewing skills, a dry pantry with household goods, help with school supplies for children and a winter holiday meal with professional family photos. Johns says officials with the organization believe, for a recipient to be successful, they need a support system and as much help as possible.

“Our program supports a holistic approach to the services we provide,” Goodwin says. “So often our graduates tell us that the money for school was a great help, but it was the wrap-around services that allowed them to be successful and make it through to graduation.”

Two recipients enrolled in online degree programs offered by the University of Arkansas describe the impact of the scholarship on their lives and how they balance home, work and school. More than 80 online degree, certificate and licensure programs are showcased on the University of Arkansas ONLINE website. The U of A Global Campus also offers online job training in many fields through its Professional and Workforce Development division.

Cassie Riddick

When Cassie Riddick of Siloam Springs was discharged after four months in a local hospital, she was paralyzed from injuries suffered in a car accident that took the life of her 6-year-old daughter, Violet. She knew she wanted to get a bachelor’s degree so that she could work and take care of her older daughter, Natalie, 11, but she didn’t think it would be possible.

Photo of Cassie Riddick with her daughter Natalie

Cassie Riddick with her daughter, Natalie, 11

An online degree program at the University of Arkansas and scholarship assistance from the Single Parent Scholarship of Northwest Arkansas combined with other scholarships – and Riddick’s indomitable spirit – proved obtaining that degree would be possible. With credits she earned previously at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, Riddick is a sophomore in the online bachelor’s degree in communication at the U of A.

“The online degree program is convenient for me with my mobility issues,” says Riddick, who holds the title of Ms. Arkansas Wheelchair 2023 and will travel to Michigan in August to compete on the national stage on her platform, One Parent, One Power. “I can still be part of class without being on campus.”

Riddick’s platform focuses on empowering single parents with disabilities to raise their children independently. She has an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from NWACC and, after earning her bachelor’s degree in communication, she wants to go to law school to become an attorney in the disability rights field.

A single parent for seven years, Riddick says the challenges are intensified for a single parent with a disability.

“It’s harder to find work, to find a job that is accommodating,” she says. “I want to care for my daughter and support her on my own. When I was an able-bodied parent, I worked two jobs: one to pay for my education and one to take care of my family. I want to find a career that will give me more stability.”

Studying online gives her the flexibility she needs, Riddick says.

“I like the online program,” she says. “When I don’t feel well in the morning, I can work in the afternoon. I know my deadlines, the syllabus, the schedule, and I can work around that. It gives me time to do the work, time with my child, and to study. I have a lot of time to absorb information. I don’t feel like it’s confined to the classroom.”

She also maintains a foundation in memory of her younger daughter to raise money to support organ donation. Violet’s heart, corneas and some tendons were donated to help others.

“If I could give advice to someone, I would say never give up and never say, ‘I can’t.’ Positivity is so important to the healing process. Days when I’m sad I set a goal to stay busy with positive things,” Riddick says.

Desiree Tibbs

For Single Parent Scholarship recipient Desiree Tibbs, also of Benton County, life revolves around her teenage son, Andrew, and her work. She enrolled in the online LPN to BSN program at the University of Arkansas to fulfill her ambition to work as a forensic nurse. She is working part time on her bachelor’s degree so that she can be successful in all areas: family, work and school.

Desiree Tibbs with her son, Andrew

Desiree Tibbs with her son, Andrew, 13

It’s important to Tibbs that her son, 13, doesn’t miss out on activities he wants to do. She takes him to or picks him up from athletic activities – track, football and boxing – most days of the week. She starts her homework after cooking dinner.

A friend who was also a Single Parent Scholarship recipient told Tibbs about the fund when she needed assistance to pay U of A tuition. When her son was younger and she was enrolled at NWACC for prerequisites, Tibbs took him with her to class. He sat in the hallway and watched YouTube, she says.

“The U of A is more expensive than NWACC, but I need to study online,” she says. “It’s easier for me because of the convenience. It fits into my life better.”

Tibbs works full time as a wound-care nurse at a long-term care facility. She has struggled with personal challenges throughout her life.

“I’ve been through a lot to get me where I am now,” Tibbs says. “I’m moving forward.”

Before she became an LPN, she was working as a phlebotomist and didn’t plan to seek more training until her younger sister died in a car accident.

“That changed my focus,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking about going back to school. Now, I want to get my sexual assault nurse examiner’s license. My ultimate goal is to be a forensic nurse or a coroner. I want to help those who have been traumatized. It’s not for everyone, just like wound care is not for everyone.”

One of the best things about the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas is the support it offers beyond money to pay for tuition and books, Tibbs says. She mentioned the dry goods pantry with paper products, cleaning supplies and other household items, Christmas gifts for children, and back-to-school backpacks for children.

“It doesn’t just help you with school,” she says. “These are things that affect you, that can keep you going to school.”

To read the blog post in its entirety visit:

Special thanks to Heidi Wells for writing such a great article about SPSFNWA & our Recipients!

Heidi Wells

Heidi Wells

Content strategist

Heidi Wells is the content strategist for the Global Campus at the University of Arkansas and editor of The Online Learner. Her writing spans more than 30 years as a communicator at the U of A and a reporter and editor at Arkansas newspapers. Wells earned two degrees from the U of A: a master’s in 2013 and a bachelor’s in 1988. Wells can be reached at or 479-575-7239.

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