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How to Improve College Success for Single Students with Children

How to Improve College Success for Single Students with Children

Students who are single parents are much less likely to graduate than other undergraduate students. They also graduate with more student debt. Yet there are several simple solutions that can help them succeed.

Different Graduation Rates

Of students seeking a bachelor’s degree, only about a fifth of students who are single parents will graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared with two-thirds of students who are not single parents (based on data from the 2009 follow-up to the 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students longitudinal study BPS:04/09).

The students who are single parents are also more likely to graduate with student loans. Out of single parents who graduate with a bachelor’s degree, about seven in eight graduate with student loans, compared with two-thirds of other students (based on data from the 2011-12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study NPSAS:12).

Debt at Graduation

Percent with Debt at Graduation

2011-12 NPSAS

Not Single Parent

Single Parent

  Certificate

61.9%

77.8%

  Associate's degree

47.2%

61.5%

  Bachelor's degree

67.6%

85.0%

The amount of student loan debt at graduation also is greater than other students, especially for bachelor’s degree recipients.

Average Debt at Graduation

2011-12 NPSAS

Not Single Parent

Single Parent

  Certificate

$13,053

$13,743

  Associate's degree

$16,572

$19,210

  Bachelor's degree

$28,841

$34,437

Working Full-Time

Almost a third (31.4%) of students who are single parents work full-time, compared to a fifth (20.1%) of other students (based on data from NPSAS:12). Full-time is defined as working 40 or more hours per week, including Federal Work-Study jobs. Students who are single parents also are less likely to work 12 hours or less per week.

Students who work a full-time job during the academic year are half as likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree within six years. This is compared to students who work 12 hours or less per week (based on data from BPS:04/09).

Growing Number of Single Parents

The number of students who are single parents has grown rapidly over the last two decades. From 1995-96 to 2011-12, the number of undergraduate students who are single parents nearly doubled from 1.8 million to 3.5 million. As of 2011-12, more than 15% of undergraduate students are single parents.

Demographic Characteristics of Single Parents

Students who are single parents are more likely to be female and low-income students. They also tend to be more than a decade older than traditional college students. More than three-quarters (77.6%) of students who are single parents are female, a total of 2,717,714. Female students are more than twice as likely to be single parents as male students (20.7% vs. 7.9%).

Two-thirds of students who are single parents are Pell Grant recipients (66.2%). The Federal Pell Grant is a good proxy for low-income status. Of Pell Grant recipients, about a quarter (24.4%) are single parent independent students, compared with 8.7% of non-recipients. A total of 2,319,432 Pell Grant recipients are students who are single parents.

This chart shows the age distribution of students who are single parents compared to other types of students. Students who are single parents tend to be older, with about half age 30 or older, compared with about a fifth of other undergraduate students. The opposite trend is true in the 15-23 age range.

student parents

Enrollment Patterns of Single Parents

Students who are single parents are more likely to enroll in for-profit colleges and in associate’s degree and certificate programs.  Almost two-thirds (63.4%) of students who are single parents are enrolled in public colleges, with 48.1% in community colleges, compared with 7.5% in private non-profit colleges and 29.1% in private for-profit colleges.

About a third (32.7%) of students at for-profit colleges are single parents, compared with 13.1% of students at public colleges (17.5% of community college students) and 8.7% of students at private, nonprofit colleges. More than half of students who are single parents are enrolled in associate’s degree programs.

Problems Faced by Students Who Are Single Parents

  • They are more likely to work full-time to provide for their children in addition to themselves
  • A lack of reliable childcare can force them to stay home from school
  • A sick baby can keep the student parent up all night, affecting attention spans
  • They might experience the same issues as low-income students

Solutions for Students Who Are Single Parents

With proper support, single parents can have the same graduation rates as other students! Most solutions involve eliminating potential conflicts between school, home and work life. Support for students who are single parents includes:

Affordable on-campus child care. Schools should expand their on-campus child care facilities to students and subsidize the costs for students who are single parents. Depending on the age of their children, the student’s childcare needs might differ. For example, preschool children need daycare, while older children may need after-school programs.

Transportation to and from school. Given that most students who are single parents live off-campus, they need reliable transportation to and from campus. Many are living just one auto service appointment away from disaster and they don’t have any alternatives if they experience car trouble.

Flexible scheduling options. Students who are single parents might have scheduling constraints, such as needing to take classes when their children are in daycare or school. If the student must stay home to take care of their children, some classes provide online or video lectures.

Counseling and academic support. Wraparound support programs and parent support groups can be helpful. Colleges also can provide social workers to help students who are single parents to apply for WIC, SNAP, TANF and other public benefit programs. Colleges also can provide parenting classes and life skills classes and workshops. Third-party scholarships for students who are single parents, such as the Patsy Takemoto Mink Scholarship.

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