The number of single mothers in college more than double between 1999 and 2012, according to IWPR, with the largest share of them — 44 percent — enrolled in community colleges. Among women in community college, 21 percent are single mothers, compared to 7 percent of women in four-year institutions.
Despite the good news, the report added that single mothers still face many challenges and have low rates of college-degree attainment. Four in 10 women at two-year colleges say that they are likely or very likely to drop out of school due to their dependent care obligations.
Women of color
Nearly 2.1 million students — 11 percent of all undergraduates — are raising children without a partner, IWPR says.
“The growth in single mothers in college was more than twice the rate of growth seen among the overall undergraduate student population (42 percent) over the same time period,” the report said.
Women of color are especially likely to be single parents, according to the report. Thirty-seven percent of black women and 27 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native women are raising a child on their own while in college, compared to 19 percent of Hispanic women, 17 percent of women of two or more races and 14 percent of white women.
“These data demonstrate the importance of supporting single mothers’ postsecondary attainment to improving equity in higher education access and success,” the report said.
Low-income and working
The report also highlighted the challenges that single mothers face, such as finding affordable child care so they can attend classes. It added that 89 percent of single mothers in college have low incomes, and 63 percent live in poverty.
Still, 54 percent of them work more 20 or more hours per week while attending college, and 43 percent work 30 hours or more a week, the report said.
IWPR called on more colleges and universities to tap innovative programs to support single mothers in attaining a college credential, including child care, coaching, peer support and scholarships.