Bridging the Opportunity Divide

5 Ways Colleges Help Single Parents Earn Degrees

November 8, 2017
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5 Ways Colleges Help Single Parents Earn Degrees
A handful of universities are leading the way in supporting America's 4.8 million student-parents. Photo by Jens Schlueter/Getty Images
From lactation rooms to tuition help, these schools are making it easier to balance life with kids and life on campus.

For roughly a quarter of American college students — 4.8 million of them, to be exact — life is more than just textbooks, beer and all-night philosophical discussions. Instead, their college experience comes with a side of baby books, bottles and the need for extra childcare during finals. It’s a challenging scenario, and for those raising kids without a partner, the time, dedication and money needed to graduate is even more acute. As of 2012, there were 2.1 million single moms enrolled in college, a number that has doubled since 1999. What’s more, only 28 percent of them complete their degrees within six years.

The good news is that some colleges and universities have created innovative programs to help students with kids, particularly single mothers, earn bachelor degrees, which in turn greatly improves their prospects for financial security. Their efforts can be used as a model for other institutions that want to increase the assistance given to the student-parents in their ranks.

FAMILY HOUSING OPTIONS

It’s tremendously easier to get to class when you’re living right on campus. That goes double for those students who have to juggle getting themselves and their children out the door in the mornings. The College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Neb., is just one of a handful of schools that has dedicated a portion of its campus housing to student-parents, opening its $10 million Madonna Hall in 2012 to provide housing for up to 48 single mothers, with free laundry services and play areas for their kids. And parenting students at Misericordia University in Dallas, Penn., who have school-age kids can take advantage of a bus line that runs from the university’s free year-round housing to local elementary and high schools.

CHILDCARE SUPPORT

Though the number of on-campus daycare facilities has decreased to less than half of all public institutions, there are still plenty of options for the student-parent. For example, at Minneapolis’s St. Catherine University, the young children of student-parents in the Access and Success Program can attend a Montessori early-education program, and the university keeps a list of on-campus students available for baby-sitting. St. Catherine also provides access to dedicated lactation rooms, as does the University of Iowa and the University of Washington.

One of the ways colleges support student-parents is by offering affordable on-campus daycare.Photo by Sandra Mu/Getty Images

SPECIAL SCHOLARSHIPS AND GRANTS

According to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 88 percent of single parents in college have incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For these students, receiving financial assistance is critical. At  Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., about 90 nontraditional students, including single mothers under the age of 25, are enrolled as Francis Perkins Program scholars each year, with 25 of them receiving full-tuition scholarships. Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business in Provo, Utah, offers scholarships to single-parent undergraduate and graduate students, both mothers and fathers. Wilson College, an all-girls school in central Pennsylvania, doles out 13 scholarships to single parents with children between the ages of 20 months and 12 years. And in addition to offering grants of up to $8,600 to parenting students, the University of California–Berkeley’s Bear Pantry, which exclusively serves student parents, provides them a two-week food supply along with a $30 gift card for fresh produce, meat or dairy.

KID-FRIENDLY FUN

While financial help and on-campus childcare are invaluable to single-parent students, so too are activities and dedicated spaces to keep their kids happy and occupied. At Misericordia, students’ kids can attend summer and sports camps, learn to swim, and visit the on-campus children’s garden and library. Likewise, Wilson College offers trips to Hershey Park for the hardworking families in its Single Parent Scholar Program. And the Children’s Center at Indiana University Southeast provides structured daycare that combines classroom learning with outdoor recreation, games and storytime.

WRAPAROUND SUPPORT SERVICES

To help parent-students succeed, some schools have fully integrated programs that provide not just childcare and housing, but also counseling services and parenting workshops. The Keys to Degrees Program at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., offers year-round campus housing, childcare placement and subsidies, scholarship support, tutoring, mentoring and parenting-skills courses. Endicott pioneered the program and, through grants, has expanded it to schools including Portland State, Eastern Michigan, Dillard University and others. And it’s working: Seventy-four percent of Keys to Degrees participants have earned a bachelor’s degree, and 92 percent of graduates since 2013 are now working in a field related to their course of study. In addition, the College of Saint Mary has a dedicated employee that helps moms find pediatricians and, if needed, legal aid. Its Mothers Living & Learning program offers workshops in parenting strategies, and a student group called MOMS (Many Opportunities for Mothering Solo) plans fun-filled events for mothers and their kids.

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The goal of these programs and others is simple: Make life easier on the single parent who wants to study. As Autumn Green, the director of Endicott’s student-parents program, recently put it, “We try to look for students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to attend college. Students get a lot from the program, but they’re also giving a lot to the program. They’re making an investment in their future. They have skin in the game.”

Homepage photo by by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

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