5 ways to put college degrees within reach for more single mothers

Approximately 1.7 million single mothers are attending colleges and universities across the nation, but a mere 8 percent of them are completing their degree within six years. These gaps are especially pressing for women of color, as nearly 40 percent of Black female college students are single mothers. “Latina and Native American women students are also more likely to be juggling parenthood and school without the support of a partner,” Barbara Gault, executive vice president at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and Jennifer Zeisler, senior program director for career readiness at ECMC Foundation, write in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

NPR also recently explored the challenges of parenting while in college, profiling University of Florida student Akiya Parks, who was the first in her family to attend college, gave birth to a son her first year at the university, and graduated last weekend. NPR’s Elissa Nadworny highlighted Parks’s struggle to secure child care during college and to earn enough to cover both her educational and living expenses—as well as her determination to finish. “Given the right supports,” student-parents like Parks do graduate, said Nadworny.

Opportunities to increase student-parents’ chance for success

Ninety percent of the single mothers enrolled in college are low-income students, and improving their graduation rates would bring substantial economic benefit. An analysis conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that “single mothers who complete associate degrees earn $329,498 more over their lifetimes and are 38 percent less likely to live in poverty than single mothers with only high school diplomas.” For single mothers who earn bachelor’s degrees, the gain is even greater.

Calling on higher education leaders to “integrate family caregiving and support services into a 21st-century vision of college,” Gault and Zeisler outline five actions that could help put college degrees within reach for single mothers:

  • Collecting better data to help schools understand how many of their students are also parents and track their needs and outcomes.
  • Considering parenting costs in financial aid.
  • Working with community partners.
  • Providing support for single mothers without work requirements.
  • Encouraging proactive policies that help single mothers succeed in the classroom.

Ultimately, “the data shows that money [spent supporting student parents] will be a good investment,” reports NPR’s Nadworny. Student parents tend to earn higher GPAs than classmates without kids, but the pressures of juggling competing responsibilities often derail their degree pursuits.

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