43% of community college student mothers expect to drop out

There are 2.1 million single mothers enrolled in college, but they are still less likely to graduate than their peers. For these women, there simply isn’t enough time in the day both to devote to academics and complete the obligations associated with child care, according to a new report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR).

The study found that single moms enrolled in college full-time spend nearly nine hours a day on child care and housework—leaving little time for studying, sleeping, exercising, or socializing with peers. Working under these constraints, it's no surprise that nearly half (43%) of women enrolled in community college and living with children said they expect to drop out.

How to support college stopouts and prevent dropouts

But colleges may be able to give them back some of their time by providing affordable child care services. Eight years of data from Monroe Community College suggests access to campus child care centers increased student parents' odds of returning to college the following year by 17 points (68% vs. 51%) and their odds of graduating on time by 26 points (41% vs. 15%).

As of 2015, less than half of public four-year institutions and community colleges provided on-campus child care. And those with child care centers had waitlists averaging 80 children long.

"Single mothers in college are doing double and triple duty to make a better life for their families," says IWPR Researcher Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, "but too few have the support needed to juggle the competing time demands of college, parenthood, and employment."

But colleges are beginning to provide student mothers with the support they need. For example, Bard Microcollege Holyoke was founded specifically for low-income women with children. And Endicott College launched a "Keys to Degrees" program to assist young parents and their children.

States have also started allocating more money to student parents. Bipartisan legislation recently doubled funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. And Democratic state and federal lawmakers are working to reauthorize the federal grant program for on-campus child care (Harris, The Atlantic, 5/11).

Learn more: How to boost student completion rates through existing campus resources


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