New!

How to Improve College Success for Single Students with Children

on July 31, 2017

Students who are single parents are much less likely to graduate than other undergraduate students. They also graduate with more student loan debt. Yet, there are several simple solutions that can help them to succeed. The number of students who are single parents is growing and they are disproportionately first-generation college students. It is increasingly important to address the needs of these students.

 

Lower 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). They are three times less likely to graduate. Graduation rates also are lower for certificates and associate’s degree programs, as illustrated in this table.

 

Graduation Rates by Degree program 2003-04

Not

Single Parent

Single Parent

  Certificate

54.6%

46.2%

  Associate's degree

18.8%

12.0%

  Bachelor's degree

64.2%

21.0%


More Debt at Graduation

 

The students who are single parents also are more likely to graduate with student loans, if they graduate. Of students who are 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).

 

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

 

More Likely to Work Full-Time

 

Almost a third (31.4 percent) of students who are single parents work full-time, compared with about a fifth (20.1 percent) 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 (38.3 percent vs. 44.6 percent).

 

Even though about the same percentage of students who are single parents work during the academic year as compared with other students (66.9 percent vs. 65.8 percent), the students who do work tend to work longer hours. This might be because they have children to support, with insufficient alternative sources of support.

 

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 as compared with students who work 12 hours or less per week, based on data from BPS:04/09.

 

Growing Number of Students who are 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 shown in this chart. As of 2011-12, more than 15 percent of undergraduate students are single parents.

 

Demographic Characteristics of Students who are Single Parents

 

Students who are single parents are much more likely to be female, low-income and first-generation college students. They also tend to be more than a decade older than traditional college students.

 

More than three quarters (77.6 percent) 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 percent vs. 7.9 percent).

 

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

 

Almost four-fifths (79.0 percent) of students who are single parents are first-generation college students, with neither of the student’s parents having received a Bachelor’s degree or a more advanced degree. More than half (50.7 percent) of their parents do not have any education beyond high school.

 

Students who are single parents are about 11 years older than dependent students, on average, with average ages of 31.3 years and 20.1 years, respectively. But they are slightly younger than other independent students who have an average age of 32.7 years. Note that anyone age 24 or older as of December 31 of the award year is automatically considered to be an independent student.

 

This chart compares the age distribution of students who are single parents with that of other types of students. Students who are single parents tend to skew 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.

 

 

Enrollment Patterns of Students who are 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 percent) of students who are single parents are enrolled in public colleges, with 48.1 percent in community colleges, compared with 7.5 percent in private non-profit colleges and 29.1 percent in private for-profit colleges.

 

About a third (32.7 percent) of students at for-profit colleges are single parents, compared with 13.1 percent of students at public colleges (17.5 percent of community college students) and 8.7 percent of students at private, nonprofit colleges.

 

More than half of students who are single parents are enrolled in associate’s degree programs.

 

Degree Program

2011-12 NPSAS

Percentage who are

Single Parents

Percentage of

Single Parents

  Certificate

28.2%

14.9%

  Associate's degree

19.2%

53.4%

  Bachelor's degree

9.5%

28.9%

 

 

Problems Faced by Students who are Single Parents

 

Students who are single parents face more problems than other students. Conflicts between school, home and work commitments are more intense and can interfere with their academic performance.

  • They are more likely to work full-time and to work longer hours since they need to provide for their children in addition to themselves. This contributes to greater time-management challenges, since they are dealing with more demands on their time.
     
  • A lack of reliable childcare can force them to stay home from school when their babysitter is sick or otherwise unavailable.
     
  • A sick baby can keep the student parent up all night, affecting attention spans.
     
  • They might be dealing with child custody issues with a former spouse.
     
  • They might be victims of domestic violence.
     
  • They might also experience the same issues as low-income students, such problems with poverty, food, homelessness and access to health care, even if they have middle or high income.

If these challenges force the student to skip some of their classes, it prevents them from learning the material. The negative impact can be cumulative, eventually affecting their grades and perhaps forcing them to drop out of college.

 

Solutions for Students who are Single Parents

 

With proper support, single parents can have 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 should include:

  • Affordable on-campus child care. Most colleges provide childcare facilities only for faculty and staff, and these facilities tend to be oversubscribed. Even when these facilities are available to students, the fees are unaffordable for students who are single parents. Colleges should expand their on-campus child care facilities to make them available to students and subsidize the costs for students who are single parents. They also should provide emergency drop-in childcare for students whose babysitter falls ill. 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.
     
  • Housing for students with children. Most students who are single parents live off-campus since most colleges do not provide on-campus housing for students with children. On-campus housing usually is geared toward a transient student population. Most college dormitories have not been childproofed, making them less suitable for students with children. Many students who are single parents are homeless or lack stable housing, further disrupting their lives.
     
  • Transportation to/from college. Given that most students who are single parents live off-campus, they need reliable transportation to/from the college campus. Many are living just one auto service appointment away from disaster and they don’t have any alternatives if they experience car trouble. On-campus parking is expensive and parking spaces are hard to find, since most campus parking lots are oversubscribed.
     
  • 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, most classes do not provide online or video lectures.
     
  • Emergency student aid funds. Many students who are single parents demonstrate a great degree of financial fragility. An unexpected expense of just a few hundred dollars can be all it takes to force them to drop out of college. Colleges should provide emergency grants and emergency loan funds.
     
  • Counseling and academic support. Students who are single parents are under greater stress and time pressure, so they need more help. Wraparound support programs and parent support groups can be helpful. Colleges also should 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.

Colleges should establish grants and scholarships for students who are single parents and refer students to other sources of support. Examples include third-party scholarships for students who are single parents, such as the Patsy Takemoto Mink Scholarship.

 

Can I get Into...

We Know Your Chances. Do You?

What Are My Chances