Discussion on College Success for Single Mothers

Thank you for joining us today. We are welcoming Sandy Goodman from the National College Transitions Network. Today, we are focusing our conversation on the project College Success for Single Mothers. The goal of the project was to,,,

  • identify the needs of single mothers as students on campus,
  • develop an action plan to address their needs, and
  • expand key practices and services to enhance their success in college and careers.

It is our hope that you engage in the conversation and discover how this work can aid in the retention and transition plans for single parents. 

To get us started, Sandy can you please share a bit about this project? 

Kathy Tracey 




Good morning, Program Managers, 

I'm excited to have this time with you to discuss parenting students, in general, and single mothers, specifically, and how we can best support them in adult education and in their transition to postsecondary education and training. 

Parenting Students in Adult Education

Needless to say, as adult educators, we have always recognized parenting students in our programs and support them in their education as they juggle their roles as parents, learners, workers, etc. We are familiar with challenges our students encounter finding affordable childcare, afterschool care, engaging in their children's learning, and supporting a family financially. We're also attentive to the lived experiences, skills, strengths and commitment to education (and being educational models for their children) that parenting students contribute to our classrooms. 

Parenting Student in Higher Education

Community colleges serve similar students with similar adult responsibilities, but they have not always recognized these students as the majority on campuses and designed schedules, curriculum, and programming for traditional, younger student body.

In fact, according to Parents in College by The Numbers (Aspen Institute):

  • More than one in five college students—or 22 percent of all undergraduates—are parents Roughly70 percent of students raising children while they are in college are mothers.
  • Single mothers represent 43 percent of student parents.
  • The largest share of student parents is enrolled in community colleges (42 percent of all student parents are community college students).

From the Institute for Women’s Policy Research:

  • Eighty-nine (89) percent of single mother students were low-income, with 63 percent in poverty.
  • Women of color are more likely to be single parent students

College Success for Single Mothers Project Background

Given our work designing effective programs to support adult learners’ transition to and through college and careers, NCTN was pleased to be invited by ECMC Foundation to identify examples of targeted supports and services offered by 17 community colleges, and set of recommendations. There are documented in our 2019 report No Matter What Obstacle is Thrown My Way

The report suggests that without building broader institutional support and capacity, many single mothers and student parents who stand to benefit will remain unidentified by institutions, unaware of what is available to support them on their campuses, and unserved, as a result. To that end, we recommended that colleges:

  • collect data to identify parenting students on campus
  • provide professional development to faculty and staff on the needs of parenting students
  • develop diverse and flexible funding sources and institutional capacity to support all parenting students (not just those eligible for narrowly defined funding streams)
  • advocate for policies within and outside of the institutions that support parenting students

Addressing the Needs of Parenting Students in Adult Education and Community College

Currently, we’re working with eight community colleges to identify and address the needs of single mothers and all parenting students on their campuses. Each college has convened a task force to collect comprehensive quantitative and qualitative data using student surveys and focus groups, and an assessment of assets and gaps in supports available on campus and in the community. This blog describes some of the early lessons we learned around data collection and capacity in the first year of the project.

  • What are your questions about the College Success for Single Mothers project?
  • How do you identify and address the needs of parenting students in your program?
  • How do you leverage community partnerships to support parenting students?





Thank you for the great information! 

I feel as though this is a very timely discussion as we are seeing women leave both the workforce and education. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/12/business/young-women-are-leaving-school-and-work-experts-say-caregiving-may-be-the-reason.html In your early lessons, can you discuss the types of supports women need in order to be successful?


Our earlier research, professional wisdom, and the data the colleges are gathering from parenting students, point to the need for a wide array of personal, academic, financial and childcare supports. These are some examples and I'm sure your adult education students who are parents express the same needs:

  • Flexible and accessible array of academic and student supports -  offered on evenings, weekends, and on a drop-in basis.  
  • Affordable, high quality childcare – preschool, after-school, and evenings and weekends to enable time for studying
  • Financial assistance – to pay for cost of attending beyond tuition and what is covered by financial aid - additional childcare transportation, reduced employment income, food, housing
  • Health and wellbeing services for parents and families
  • Peer support, sense of belonging and visibility (each parent believes they are the only one)
  • Flexibility and accommodation for course deadlines, exams, etc.  In most cases, this type of flexibility is at the discretion of individual faculty.
  • Career counseling and accelerated pathways to high quality employment with family sustaining wages and benefits.
  • Navigators/coaches with knowledge of available income supports and services to assess eligibility and assist parenting students to access everything available to them.  

How do your programs identify and address the needs of parenting students?

What data do you collect and analyze to guide your efforts?

Thanks so much for sharing that great list of supports. Each one is an actionable item that can increase a student's sense of belonging and maintain their access to services. Can you discuss any challenges you've encountered? 

And to our colleagues, as you've reviewed the information on this project, what questions do you have? 


The colleges we're working with have discovered that many parenting students are not aware of the supports, cash assistance, and other services available to them on campus. There are a variety of reasons for this:

- Even colleges with ample resources have not done enough to market them directly to parenting students and to communicate that they see these parents, welcome them and their children, and want to do what they can to ensure their success. 

- Parenting students have so little time to scan the college website for information, so colleges need to send targeted emails, texts, and include syllabus language that is explicit about supports for parenting students.

- Most colleges don't have a systematic way of collecting data to identify parenting students and data is underutilized and incomplete, they haven't developed strategies for targeted outreach to parenting students (or prospective students).

- Parenting students need flexible, just-in-time drop in services. Even some of the colleges with the most ample and holistic student supports have been slow to depart from traditional 9-5 business hours for these services. One single mother student I interviewed described why the drop-in tutoring available in an on-campus parenting center was so important - "I can't bear to make one more appointment (with advance-scheduling tutoring center) that I may have to cancel last minute because my child is sick...needs a ride..."

- Parenting students describe feeling like they are the only one on campus, so colleges are working on creating spaces for them to gather, with and without their children. Parent-to-parent connections are one of the most effective ways to share information, word-of-mouth about assistance available on campus and in the community.

These are just some examples of challenges that colleges we're working with are identifying and addressing.

  • What are you seeing in your programs?
  • Do you partner with community colleges in your communities that are working on increasing assistance to parenting students?
  • Do you help learners with kids transition to college? Do you help them navigate information about the college's services for parenting students?



Thank you for sharing this amazing project. I will be monitoring this thread for additional questions and comments so I'd love to hear from our community in how you can use the information shared by Sandy.