Press "Enter" to skip to content

Support for single mothers in school is critical

Earlier this year, the WCC Administration made the unfortunate decision to close The Children’s Center, the on-campus childcare center. WCC’s substitute plan is to pay for drop-in childcare – which may or may not exist – while single mothers attend classes.

The loss of The Children’s Center creates a fundamental shift for single parents. The absence of licensed, on-campus childcare may cause single parents (mostly single mothers) to drop their education plans altogether.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 44% of all single student-parents attend public community colleges. Nearly 3 out of 10 single mothers enroll at for-profit colleges. Surprisingly, single mothers choose for-profit colleges at three times the rate that women without children do. By itself, this decision could consign them to an enormous education debt burden.

Single mothers have much lower graduation rates than either women who are married with children or unmarried women. In part, their precarious financial situation explains their educational attainment. Nearly 9 of 10 single mothers in college meet the criteria for low-income status. Nearly two-thirds of female single parents live at or below the federal poverty rate.

Financial aid doesn’t always address the cost of attendance for single mothers, either. More than 8 out of 10 female single parents cannot pay anything for their college expenses. Worse, after taking into account financial aid, grants and other financial resources, student-mothers in 2012 averaged nearly $7,000 in unmet need. This average figure is even higher for women of color. At for profit colleges, this unmet need for these women jumps to more than $10,000 per year.

Childcare costs skew attendance costs for single mothers

One reason for the substantial unmet need is the cost of childcare. Low-cost, high-quality childcare is next-to-impossible to find. 43% of single student mothers at two-year colleges report that they are very likely or likely to quit school because of childcare responsibilities. Earlier, I wrote that 44% of all single parent students enroll in two-year colleges. Taken together, these two findings mean that VIRTUALLY ALL single mothers at public two-year colleges believe that they are likely or very likely to drop out because they cannot both study and care for their children.

That may explain why the WCC Administration can say that few students used The Children’s Center. Those single parents who attempt to earn a degree are so burned out and beaten down by attempting to raise a child alone that going to school is simply not a real possibility.

So, eliminating on-campus childcare and then throwing money at the “problem” will really help these women extract themselves from poverty.

The real question is what actual support is WCC providing these women who – against the odds – are attempting to improve their economic position? Offering to pay for some fraction of off-campus childcare elsewhere isn’t going to do it. First, this approach virtually eliminates the possibility that these women can take night classes. It also precludes them from using on-campus tutoring, the Testing Center, office hours for instructors, open labs, the library and participating in group projects.

After eliminating on-campus childcare, the administration owes student-parents more than babysitting money. The Administration should be forced to develop a more comprehensive approach to help student parents improve their odds of graduating. Doing so would at least force the WCC Administration to acknowledge the stark reality most of these women face.

Photo Credit: Grant Source , via Flickr