Why more single mothers are going to college—but still not graduating

The number of single student mothers has more than doubled between 1999 and 2012, but these students are still less likely to graduate than their peers, according to a new report from the Institute of Women's Policy Research (IWPR).

According to the report, only 28% of single moms who enrolled in college between 2003 and 2009 graduated within six years, versus 57% of childless female students and 40% of married female students.

Although single moms account for more than 11% of the undergraduate population, the barriers these students face have gone largely overlooked, reports Jillian Berman for MarketWatch.

Yet for many of these learners, obtaining a college degree is critical to competing in the labor market and providing for their families, writes Meredith Kolodner for the Hechinger Report

Berman and Kolodner identify three obstacles single student moms face on the road to graduation:

1: Time poverty

When students struggle to juggle work, family, and school responsibilities, they will likely experience "time poverty," says Lindsey Cruse, lead author of the report. For these learners, a full- or part- time work schedule makes college especially difficult to navigate, notes Berman.

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2: Rising childcare costs

Many single student mothers also struggle with the rising cost of childcare. According to Kolodner, average daycare costs for a four-year-old ranged from $4,000 to $13,000 in 2016.

Although many single parents rely on subsidized child-care programs, finding affordable daycare will likely get harder if proposed funding cuts to Child Care Access Means Parents in School are passed, reports Berman.

Understand the hidden pain points in your student experience

3: Racial Inequities

In the 2011 to 2012 school year, black women were more likely than any other demographic to be a single student parent, reports IWPR. In fact, the proportion of black single student mothers (37%) was more than double the proportion of white single student mothers (14%).

Tackling persistence obstacles for single student mothers may help chip away at the racial gap in college education, argues Barbara Galt, executive director at IWPR.

How colleges are clearing the way for single student mothers

Some institutions offer housing specifically for single mothers, notes Berman. Many financial aid offices now keep children's toys on hand to create a more welcoming environment, she notes.

Why nontraditional student success is more important than ever

Although these challenges persist, single student mothers are still flocking to college campuses, says Cruse. And as many states focus on raising the number of residents with degrees to boost the economy, programs that target nontraditional students like student mothers may be a good place to start, reports IPWR (Berman, MarketWatch, 9/20; Kolodner, Hechinger Report, 9/20). 


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