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Investing in Single Mothers’ Higher Education by State

Greater investments in helping single mothers graduate college would benefit their families, their communities, and society as a whole.

December 18, 2019

By The Institute for Women's Policy Research

Earning a higher education is increasingly necessary for achieving family economic security. For single mothers, who are more likely to live in poverty than other women, earning postsecondary credentials can bring substantial benefits, from increased lifetime earnings and employment rates to better health outcomes and chances of success for their children. Single mother college students, however, often face obstacles that can complicate their ability to complete their educational programs. Just eight percent earn a degree within six years of enrolling, compared with roughly half of women in college who are not mothers. Greater investments in helping single mothers persist in college and graduate would benefit their families, their communities, and society as a whole.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) conducted a study to estimate the economic costs and benefits at the state and national levels of single mothers’ pursuit and attainment of college degrees. The study includes estimates on the returns to strategic investments in supportive services, such as child care or case management, that would be likely to increase single mothers’ college success. The findings of IWPR’s study demonstrate the importance of investing in greater access to college for single mothers, including in the supports that can help them be successful once enrolled.

The state fact sheets and national briefing paper include recommendations for how federal and state policymakers and institutions can build on this evidence to create educational environments that promote single mothers’ success, through improved data collection, greater access to key supportive services, clear campus policies for students with children, and leveraging existing social safety net programs to support parenting college students.

Find the fact sheet for your state.

Fact sheets for each state and the District of Columbia present state-level estimates of the gains to single mothers and their families, and to state economies more broadly, when single mothers go to college.

Read the briefing paper with national data and an overview of state-by-state trends.

Read the methodological appendix for more detail on how the analysis was conducted.

Find more research from IWPR on our Student Parent Success Initiative and Center on Equity in Higher Education pages.

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