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Single Mothering in College

Nicola Wurinaris
Dr. Cheryl Huff
English 111
October 21, 2018
The importance of single mothers receiving additional resources, so as to graduate college
and provide a better life for themselves and their children.
Last year, over 40% of babies born in the United States were born to single mothers,
which is three times higher than the rate in 1960. (“Single Mom Statistics”) But despite ample
evidence on the benefits of a college degree, a small number of single mothers enroll in college
and even less graduate. Why is this happening, and how can colleges work with state and federal
government to increase the percentage of single mothers leaving college with a degree? In this
essay, I will propose that by initiating and extending additional resources to single mothers,
colleges could help raise the rates of graduation for single mothers, which would improve the
quality of life for both the mothers, and their children.
The number of women who are parenting alone is increasing. In 2011, a U.S. Census
Bureau report revealed that 62% of new moms in their early 20s are unmarried. The report also
found that 36% of all moms were unwed, a number up from 31% in 2005. Additionally, in
families with incomes of less than $10,000, that number goes up to 69%. (“US Single Parent
Households”). Single mothers make up the vast majority of single parent households, and life
can be very tough. A college degree is proven to increase income earning potential, rate of
employment and consequentially an overall improvement in life. If more single mothers could
achieve their degrees, it would reduce their risk of poverty, underemployment and low
socioeconomic status. There are over 2 million single mothers in college today, 40% of which
are black. Despite being in college to hopefully bring themselves and their children out of
poverty, they face extremely challenging odds to finishing their degrees. In fact, according to the
Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), compared to 50% of women who are not
mothers, only 8 percent of single mothers who start college earn an associate or bachelor’s
degree within six years. (IWPR “Graduation rates”) Ultimately, single mothers have much lower
rates of getting a college degree over the course of their lifetimes- only 31 percent of single
mothers ages 25 and older ever get a bachelors degree, compared with 54 percent of married
mothers and 40 percent of women overall. (IWPR).
But why is this happening? It can’t be because college isn’t worth the hardship, as the
benefits of a college degree are consistently proven time and time again. The employment rate
for female adults is highest for those with a bachelor's or higher degree (83 percent) which is
double the amount of the lowest employment rate- the women who haven’t graduated high
school. (42 percent). So, the only explanation must be that single mothers are forced to quit their
schooling efforts because they are no longer able to continue. Without welfare programs to
provide access to safe housing or adequate nutrition, most mothers are having to work as well as
attend full time school simply to be able to make ends meet. Employment, coupled with trying to
maintain good grades and be the sole carer of a child is almost insurmountable odds for some
mothers to overcome. Because they cannot give up their income or child, the education is the
first item to be dropped when the schedule or finances because too much to cope with alone.
Schools could help ease this burden to make it less likely for mothers to drop out of school
before achieving their goal of a degree.
The effects of the federal, state and school level not recognizing this issue is vast. With a
much lower employment rate and a dramatically different income level, many single-parent
households are living in poverty. “Children are much more likely to be impoverished if they live
in single-mother families than if they live in married-couple families. In 2016, 42 percent of
children living in single-mother families were impoverished, compared with 8 percent of
children living in married-couple families”. (“Children in Poverty”). Children living in poverty
have fewer books and educational resources, and are much more likely to experience
homelessness, stress and depression. Educationally, the high-school dropout rate is 7 times that
of the general population, which can lead to an ongoing cycle of poverty. (“5 Ways Poverty
Harms Children”).
According to the IWPA, the high cost of daycare is the primary reason mothers do not
complete college. Only 44 percent of colleges offered any kind of daycare in 2015. (“Hechinger
Report”). There is a government funded program for college daycare called The Child Care
Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS), which helps low-income single mothers
who are in college and need childcare services. However, funding is always being cut to this and
similar programs, and recently President Trump has called to abolish it altogether. Programs
such as on-campus daycares, grants and scholarships cost money; and many colleges lack the
funding to initiate or maintain them. Otherwise, there is very little availability of federal or state
assistance specifically for single mothers attending college, leaving the burden on the colleges
Separately of programs with a financial cost, there are also allowances that colleges could
make that may not be as vastly helpful as daycare but still ease the considerable burden of trying
to juggle full time academic enrollment and single parenting. Some examples of this would be
additional time given for assignments, extended hours for testing, or fast-track pathways for
things like financial aid and tutoring assistance. These would not cost any money to institute but
could make a significance difference for single mothers who are struggling in their classes or feel
like their only option is to drop out of college and give up their chances of obtaining their degree.
Single mothers are a growing population, and yet are still not attending or graduating
college on par with their non-parenting peers. Although their challenges are great, there are
measures that could be taken at all levels- from federal funding down to individual Professors
who have single mothers enrolled in their classes. With better access to daycare, financial
assistance and additional resources such as tutoring or flexible deadlines, more mothers may be
able to graduate from college and provide a better life for themselves and their children.
Works Cited
1. Johnson, Emma. “Single Mom Statistics”:
2. “US Single Parent Households”
3. Kruvelis, Cruze, Gault 2017. “IWPR” Percentages of college graduation.
4. “Employment Rates”: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=561
5. “Children in Poverty” https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/children-in-poverty
6. “5 Ways Poverty Harms Children” https://www.childtrends.org/child-trends-5/5-wayspoverty-harms-children
7. Krupnick, Matt. “Hechinger Report”. https://hechingerreport.org/number-student-parentsavailability-campus-child-care/