7 Things to Know about Single-Mother Students


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Single-mothers make up a unique and growing group of students attending today’s colleges and universities. Although the benefits of higher education are both immediate and multigenerational for this group, the process for single-mothers to graduate with a post-secondary degree is fraught with numerous challenges. In order to aid in their success, it is extremely important for higher education practitioners to be aware of the challenges these students face. Perhaps this very brief introduction can provide a beginning for developing support of this group of students.

1. 25% of U.S. college students have dependent children.

A majority of these students are made up of single-mothers (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2013, p. 1).

2. 27% of all households in the United States are categorized as single-mother households

This number is on the rise (Vespa, Lewis, & Kreider, 2013, p. 1).

3. 17% of single-mothers hold bachelor’s degrees 

This low percentage is likely due to several challenges these women face such as the difficulty in balancing education in addition to maintaining reliable childcare and employment. Additionally, these women are likely to have little to no financial support for furthering their education (Vespa, et. al., 2013, p. 15).

4. Student single-mothers face many unique challenges compared to traditional undergrad students

Student single-mothers are “more likely to be low income, work full-time, attend school part-time, need remedial coursework, survive domestic violence, and be the first in their families to attend college” (Women Employed, n.d., p. 1). These elements make it likely for these women to “stop out” of college or take several years longer to complete a degree.

5. 47% of community colleges provided childcare on campus in 2012, dropping 10% since 2002

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “Unless the care-giving responsibilities of low-income adults are actively acknowledged and addressed, efforts to improve post-secondary access and completion for low-income adults…are likely to fall short of their full potential for change” (p. 1). The institute argues that the success of these student parents will begin and end in the availability of childcare on college campuses.

6. 62% of single-parent students have an expected family contribution of zero

While many traditional undergraduate students are able to rely on some amount of aid from their families, single-parent students are much less likely to have this option. Without this financial support from family, the ability to pay for higher education becomes much more difficult. (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, p. 3)

7. Children of single-mothers with a higher education will enjoy “long-term, multigenerational benefits in addition to immediate family economic returns” 

The benefits of higher education are multigenerational for these families. Students’ children greatly benefit from their acquisition of a degree. All the more reason to make intentional efforts to support these students’ success in college. (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2013, p. 1).


Barajas, M. S. (2011) “Academic Achievement of Children in Single Parent Homes: A Critical Review,” The Hilltop Review: Vol. 5:Iss. 1, Article 4. Available at: http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/hilltopreview/vol5/iss1/4

Institute for Women’s Policy Research (2013), College Students with Children are Common and Face Many Challenges in Completing Higher Education. Available at: www.iwpr.org

Vespa, J., Lewis, J. M., & Kreider, R.M. (2013). America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2012. Available at: http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20-570.pdf

Women Employed (n.d.), Single Mothers and College Success: Creating paths out of poverty. Available at: http://www.swd.ucla.edu/documents/SingleMothers.pdf

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