Helping single mother learners reach their goals


Four community colleges are working to increase the academic and career success of single mother learners. Their work is the focus of a new brief from the Education Design Lab.

Central New Mexico, Delgado, Ivy Tech and Monroe community colleges partnered with the Lab two years ago to lead the Single Moms Success Design Challenge, funded by ECMC Foundation. The goal of the cohort is to achieve a 30% increase in attainment of degrees and high-quality credentials by single mother learners at each participating college. That would impact at least 6,000 single moms total by summer 2024.

Preparing for launch

At the beginning of the project, Single Moms Success teams at the cohort colleges interviewed more than 100 single mother learners and nearly 70 college faculty and staff members on their campuses.

The work helped the teams gain an in-depth understanding of single moms’ experiences with college, their goals and barriers they’ve faced.

The interviews also helped the teams begin to think about changes at their college that would help single mother learners, who comprise 10% of all undergraduate students.

Related article: A hand up for single mothers

The information was curated by the Lab to create a Single Moms Success Gallery as part of a convening of the colleges. It laid out the insights gained and helped the design teams to better synthesize reflections into key themes.

That led to brainstorming, testing ideas and creating prototypes that would offer personalized learning and career support, an inclusive community and culture, and holistic support.

Finally, the colleges moved into the launch phase, which wraps up this fall. It’s during this phase that the design teams have brought their pilots to life.

Creating connections

The Luna Scholars Program at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) connects single mother learners with funding, supportive relationships and holistic advising. CNM aims to reach up to 1,500 single moms with family-friendly events and services.

Through the program, coaches guide single mother learners through academic and career planning. The learners receive referrals to flexible programs at CNM based on their goals and interests. Academic and financial coaching and family-oriented resources also are available, as well as childcare vouchers distributed through CNM’s Little Suncats program.

Learners also have access to an online community of their peers – other single moms at CNM.

“Our Facebook group started in November 2020 and is a safe environment for single moms who are going through things,” said LaToya Turner, CNM academic coach. “It was great during the pandemic to get insights from single moms on how to handle virtual schooling for them and their kids.”

In terms of financial support, CNM is providing a $1,500 scholarship for 40 learners.

“I myself was a single mother, so this population is near and dear to my heart, and I look forward to seeing their success,” Turner said.

A SMART start

In Louisiana, Delgado Community College’s Single Mothers Accessing Resources Timely (SMART) pilot will help 2,000 single mother learners to make progress in their education and careers.

The college has designed earn-and-learn opportunities with living wages to help single moms support their families throughout their time in school. Single mother learners also have access to a student success course designed specifically for them.

“This class has been a mirror to my life because it made me re-evaluate myself, challenge myself, better understand myself, feel more confident in myself,” said Tarcelyn James, a single mom and nursing student at Delgado.

Students also can connect in a single moms’ online community in the Delgado app.

The college partners with to connect learners to an online network of resources and supports in their community to address housing and food insecurity, childcare needs and more. In addition, Delgado provides access to case management, scholarships, childcare vouchers and transportation assistance.

Flexibility for success

Ivy Tech Community College is piloting the Ivy Parents Achieve Success with Support (I.PASS) program on four campuses throughout Indiana. It has a potential reach of 2,600 learners.

Single mother learners can start with the Single Moms IVYT course during their first term with a tuition waiver. From there, flexible “Learn Anywhere” classes allow students to choose between online, face-to-face or virtual learning options each week. This model originated with its Single Moms Success team and was scaled rapidly to almost 10,000 students across the institution when Covid hit.

“Learn Anywhere was founded in work we did with the Education Design Lab focusing on the needs of single mothers, and it fundamentally changed the way we think about learners as a whole at Ivy Tech,” said Chris Lowery, senior vice president of workforce, careers, and adult strategy.

Single moms also can take part in a weekly study hall with childcare, enrichment activities for kids, meals and online access options.

Other supports through I.PASS include a computer for students in the cohort, earn-and-learn opportunities, help building a career development portfolio and community-building experiences both online and in-person.

Providing an inclusive environment

Monroe Community College (MCC) in New York created the Single Mothers Network to support its 954 single mother learners.

Flexible coursework options allow for unanticipated absences. Syllabi include family-friendly language to recognize parenting students. To provide a more inclusive environment, the college also offers a virtual, family-friendly orientation.

“We used to make students come to campus for orientation, but now we’re offering that virtually for students,” said Acting Vice President of Student Services Kim McKinsey-Mabry. “In the orientation, we’re highlighting resources including video clips so they’re able to hear stories from other students, and that’s been well-reviewed so far this year.”

The college also has a partnership with Child Care Council for services and subsidies and has cross-platform communications to share information about emergency funding.

Design insights

The Single Moms Success teams at the four colleges gained insights as part of the design process – insights that can help guide other colleges. Support models should:

  • Pair basic needs supports with career-building opportunities.
  • Foster authentic relationships and inclusive institutional cultures.
  • Provide flexible educational experiences aligned with single mother learners’ goals, priorities and interests.
  • Invest in data infrastructure to identify and chart the paths of single mother learners.
  • Deepen awareness of single mother learners’ experiences across the institution.
  • Collaborate within and beyond the institution for sustainability and scale.

Over the next few years, the participating institutions will continue to build their programs and collect both quantitative and qualitative data.

About the Author

Tabitha Whissemore
Tabitha Whissemore is a contributor to Community College Daily and managing editor of AACC's Community College Journal.