Dr. Pamela Pallas is the director of the Baby Gator Child Development and Research Centers at the University of Florida. She oversees the operations of four centers serving 370 children between the ages of 6 weeks and 5 years. Pallas works with her staff to ensure all centers provide high quality child care and early education that meets National Association for the Education of Young Children standards.
Nearly 5 million college students are raising children – that’s 26 percent of all undergraduate students. Balancing family life, parenthood and college coursework can be difficult at best, and challenging at worst, especially for those without the support of a spouse or partner. Yet, the odds of finishing a degree are not insurmountable. The following page serves as a guide for the returning parent, and the parent seeking to complete a college degree while raising a family. From information about paying for college to choosing a student-parent friendly school; from tips for going back to school to insider advice from a child development expert, this article is a starting point for parents thinking about jumping back into the deep end of the postsecondary educational pool.
For those taking on a degree, parent-specific scholarships and grants are available to help lighten the financial load. Learn more about some of these options for parents looking for help in financing their educations, as well as scholarships especially for the single mother, and ways to help pay for things other than just tuition – like childcare, housing costs and transportation – below.
Sponsoring organization: Rhode Island Foundation
Application due date: May 15
Applicants for this scholarship may be entering any year of study toward a degree, and may be single parents of either sex. Preference is given to those currently receiving state aid, and also to those who have been previously incarcerated – an unusual aspect of this award.
Sponsoring organization: Capture the Dream, Inc.
Application due date: April 1 to June 1
This scholarship is available for low-income Bay Area residents who plan to attend an accredited, not-for-profit institution. The goal of the scholarship is to help eliminate one of the leading obstacles single parents face with attending college: the price tag. Recipients must demonstrate financial need, leadership in the community and high academic performance.
Sponsoring organization: Patsy Takemoto Mink Foundation
Amount: Up to $5,000
Application due date: August 1
Female students with minor children who are undertaking a wide variety of educational programs are eligible for this award. Women must pursue a GED, technical/vocational degree, associate degree, first bachelor’s degree or a professional/master’s degree and demonstrate financial need. The scholarship is named for Patsy Takemoto, a driving force behind Title IX legislation.
Sponsoring organization: The Family Ford Foundation
Amount: 90% of student’s costs, up to $25,000
Application due date: March 1
Single parents with financial need who don’t receive assistance from a domestic partner are eligible for this award. Applicants must be pursuing a bachelor’s degree, and are evaluated based on personal success, community involvement and leadership. Recipients must attend school full time and on the campus of an eligible public or private college in Oregon or California.
Sponsoring organization: Rankin Foundation
Application due date: March 1
Designed for women over 35 who put their education on hold to raise a family, this scholarship is for those pursuing a technical or vocational education, an associate degree or a first bachelor’s degree. Applicants must be low-income and enrolled in an accredited school. The amount of the scholarship varies.
Sponsoring organization: University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Application due: Third Monday in April
This alumni-funded scholarship program is awarded to single parents attending the school who prove demonstrable financial need, and may be renewed annually up to four times by the same student.
Sponsoring organization: Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College
Application due date: April 7
For single, working parents with children under the age of 12, this scholarship foundation’s goal is to fill a void in the academic system in helping students in such situations. Candidates should be full-time students pursuing a degree at SKCTC and demonstrate financial need.
Sponsoring organization: Soroptimist
Application due date: November 15
This scholarship helps women who provide the primary source of financial support for their families to pursue higher education. It includes three levels of cash awards, and applicants must be enrolled in a vocational/skills training program or an undergraduate degree program and demonstrate financial need.
Sponsoring organization: Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund
Application due date: Varies
Single Parent Scholarships are distributed to low-income single parents pursuing a post-secondary degree in preparation for employment. The scholarships are administered by affiliate organizations and eligibility criteria varies by county in the state of Arkansas, and amounts will vary based on the sponsoring organization. Most scholarships may be applied to costs not traditionally associated with school that single parents may face, such as childcare, vehicle maintenance and bills.
Sponsoring organization: Emporia State University
Application due date: February 27
Students of Emporia State University who are single parents and have completed their FAFSA® applications may apply for this annually-awarded, renewable scholarship. Students must also demonstrate financial need, and those applying for scholarship renewal are subject to maintaining minimum grade requirements.
Sponsoring organization: University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Foundation
Application due date: February 15
Inspired by their mother, the children of Kujawa created this memorial scholarship to aid single mother in need, that they may return to school, earn a degree, and better their – and their children’s – lives.
Sponsoring organization: Texas State University
Application due date:
Provided by Texas State University, applicants of this scholarship must be single women who have custody of at least one minor child. The award is awarded annually to students with a 2.5 grade point average who also demonstrate financial need.
Sponsoring organization: BYU Women’s Studies
Application due date: February 20
Single mothers who attend Brigham Young University may apply for this scholarship, an award of up to $1,500. Applicants must major in the sciences (Beverley Nalder’s field), have at least a 3.0 grade point average and demonstrate financial need.
Sponsoring organization: Women of Oakland, Oakland University
Application due date: March 30
Female, single head-of-house hold applicants who attend a degree program at OU and who have their educations interrupted by at least one year may apply for this scholarship.
Sponsoring organization: The Law Offices of Curiel & Runion
Application due date: June 5
Awarded to two applicants each year, recipients of this scholarship are single mothers who are going back to school while caring for a child. They must have a 3.0 grade point average or equivalent and write an essay about the advantages of going back to school after experiencing motherhood.
Sponsoring organization: Community College of Philadelphia
Application due date: April 1
Open to female heads-of-households, this scholarship provides funding for single mothers who are entering the college in a non-traditional field.
Sponsoring organization: Boise State University
Application due date: Varies
Boise State offers single mother students several scholarship options to help fund their educations, including the Heidi Toomey scholarship, which is specifically for single mothers aged 28 or older who have at least one dependent child.
Sponsoring organization: Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers
Application due date: December 5
This annual scholarship awards two applicants with a $1,000 scholarship each. The goal of the scholarship is to assist single mothers financially as they return to school to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree.
Sponsoring organization: University of Colorado, Denver
Application due date: April 1
With a preference given to single mothers, the Shirely Ann Cismoski Scholarship is awarded annually to students enrolled in the university, who maintain a 3.0 and above GPA and who show financial need.
Sponsoring organization: College of Science, Engineering and Technology, Minnesota State University
Application due date: March 8
One award annually is available for a single mother of one or more dependents who is a declared and accepted major of the school’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology, and who had previously completed 24 credit hours.
Many states and utility companies will offer lower bills to customers in difficult situations, such as single parents tackling school. This site contains a listing of companies who provide such programs by state, as well as information on how to apply.
Once a student fills out their FAFSA® forms, they may also apply for Pell Grants. Pell Grants do not need to be repaid, and can be used to help the student-parent cover the costs of housing, childcare, and other such daily expenses, while attending school.
Sponsoring organization: Education Aid
Application due date: June 1
Single fathers who are enrolled in a post-secondary institution or job training program are eligible to apply for this award. Award money is to go toward non-tuition based expenses, such as covering rent, childcare, utilities and school supplies.
The average tuition at four-year public universities has increased by more than 250 percent during the past 30 years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Increasing tuition rates have directly led to a jump in the amount of debt students have after graduating with the number reaching an average of $28,400 based on research from the Project on Student Debt. While that figure is high, data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found students with children typically graduated with more debt than the average student. Paying for college, along with child care, presents a difficult situation for any college student raising children.
However, for prospective parents considering enrolling in college or going back to school, financial support is available. Paying for college traditionally means combining federal student aid with other sources, such as scholarships and grants.
Federal student aid can be used to pay for an extensive list of college-related expenses, including tuition, room and board, books, and – in most cases – child or dependent care. Federal student aid is the most widely used source of funding for college students as the government distributed approximately $164 billion to students in 2013-2014, according to data from the College Board. Federal financial aid falls into three categories: grants, loans and work-study.
Grants. Grants are financial aid awards that students do not need to repay. There are two central federal grant programs, the Federal Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Opportunity Grant. Grants are awarded based on student’s financial need and total cost of college attendance.
Loans. The Department of Education funds federal student loans, loans that students must repay after graduation. Loans fall into two categories, subsidized and unsubsidized, and can be used to pay for an education at a variety of postsecondary institutions. Subsidized loans are provided to students that demonstrate financial need, and the Department of Education will pay the interest on those loans, based on several guidelines. Unsubsidized loans are available to all students (regardless of financial need) and students are responsible for paying interest on those loans.
Work study. The Federal Work Study Program (FSW) is available at approximately 3,400 institutions of higher education, through which students can earn a part-time income to defray the costs of items such as child care.
In addition to the example groups above, there are hundreds of organizations dedicated to supporting student-parents including Single Parents Alliance of America, Parents without Partners, Single Mother Help, and Single Parent Advocate.
Over a quarter (26 percent) of all undergraduate students, or 4.8 million students, are raising dependent children. Women are disproportionately likely to be balancing college and parenthood, many without the support of a spouse or partner. Women make up 71 percent of all student parents, and roughly 2 million students, or 43 percent of the total student parent population, are single mothers. Single student fathers make up 11 percent of the student parent population.Number of Student Parents at All Postsecondary Institutions by Sex and Marital Status
Of the more than 12 million single parent families in the U.S. in 2014, the Census Bureau reports that 83 percent are headed by single mothers. In contrast, the number of single parent families headed by a father stands only at 17 percent. Today, one in four children younger than 18 are being raised by a single mother, or about 17.4 million kids nationally.
While the pressure on the mother to make sure all of a child’s needs – including the physical and emotional – are met on her own are great, there’s nowhere it’s felt greater than in the pocketbook. The same 2014 Census Report showed that 23 percent of all single mothers are jobless for the entire year, with an average yearly earned income of $26,000. Compared with the median income of a married, two parent family – $84,000 – the struggle single moms face to provide for their families becomes readily apparent.
Ostensibly, heading back to school to pursue a degree and thereby raising a single mother’s job opportunities and salary options seems like a smart choice. The logistics of undertaking school, be it on a full- or part-time basis, keep many from chasing that goal however. Costs are the most prohibitive factor, and careful considerations must also be made regarding childcare, the mother’s ability to maintain grades and a possibly heavy study schedule while balancing family life, and loss of income if she must reduce working hours to attend classes.
Online courses are one popular option for single moms looking to earn their degree. With many programs provided in an asynchronous format (meaning they can be completed at any time of the day or night), classes can be made to fit into daily life, instead of the other way around. Online classes can be more affordable as well, as most are offered at in-state tuition rates, regardless of where the student is located.
In addition to the financial aid options available to single parents returning to school on this page, there are a large number of programs offering grants, scholarships and help to women fund their degrees. Once the decision has been made to undertake post-secondary education, FAFSA® forms should be immediately filled out, and a visit with the institution’s financial aid offices can help to facilitate locating other loan, grant and scholarship programs.
Average salaries by degree level
Though earning a degree can be a significant hardship to the single mother, the salary benefits once graduated are great. With the degree level, salaries increase exponentially. Greater salaries typically also come additional benefits, like paid sick and vacation time, healthcare and savings/retirement options, all of which can make a huge difference in the lives of single mothers and their families.
More than any other parent group who look to pursue higher education, single mothers making the jump to head back to school are in need of extra support. A great number of resources exist both on and offline, granted they know where to look. Here, single moms can find 10 sites and organizations offering tips, tricks and aid for the single mom heading back to school.
A nonprofit that help single mothers find the necessities they need to take care of their families, as well as offering financial support.
Organizations, nonprofits and grant opportunities for single moms looking to help make ends meet.
A guide to finding and securing emergency financial aid.
Helping Hands for Single Moms. A nonprofit focused on helping single moms heading back to school with educational and financial expenses.
A nonprofit focused on helping single moms heading back to school with educational and financial expenses.
Singlemoms.org offers a housing assistance guide, a mortgage guide and information on fighting foreclosures.
Information on organizations that can help with paying bills, as well as obtaining and keeping housing.
Info on grants, Medicaid applications and tax breaks for single moms.
Housing assistance, education and career help, and information on child support and custody laws.
Empowering women who have chosen the path of single motherhood by providing support and information.
A nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of single parents, with online classes, forums and toolkits.
Data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that 71 percent of student-parents are women and of all student-parents, 43 percent are single mothers, with single fathers account for 11 percent of the student-parent population. The student-parent population has the highest drop-out rate among all demographics, with
Only 33 percent graduating from a degree or certificate program within six years.
For these students, the demands of caring for their children, working and going to school can threaten their ability to stay in college, let alone maintain significant progress towards a degree.
Source: IWPR analysis of the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (04/09)
A major solution is on-campus child care and development centers. These facilities can simplify a student’s daily routine, save on commuting costs, and allow students to be close to their children. Additionally, research has shown on-campus care centers improve retention rates and directly decrease a student’s likelihood of dropping out of school. Child care in most states is more expensive than college tuition, which means coupling the cost of child care with the total cost of attendance at either a two- or four-year college may be untenable for many prospective students.
Source: IWPR 2013 Analysis of National Survey of Students Engagement Annual Results 2012
Despite the growing need and demand for quality, affordable on-campus child care, the availability of that care has been declining over the past decade. Again, data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that only 46 percent of community colleges offered on-campus child care in 2013, while the rate was 51 percent on public, four-year institutions. Those rates dipped by 13.2 percent and 5.6 percent, respectively between 2002 and 2013. At the community college level – according to the National Center for Education Statistics – less than half of the country’s 1,000 community colleges provide on-campus care services for parents. The American Association of University Women notes the states with the best rates of child care at community colleges included Delaware, Nevada and Rhode Island. The five states with the highest rates of on-campus child care at the community college level include:
Source: American Association of University Women
Broadly, on-campus programs are still underserving students and not meeting demand. The most recent study (2010) from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research discovered on-campus supply only meets 5 percent of the total child care needs of parents enrolled in college nationwide.
Less than half of the country’s 1,000 community colleges provide on-campus care services for parents.
Further compounding the issue, on-campus programs are known for their long queues; some centers have waitlists that are 85 percent larger than the capacity of the facilities themselves. Federal funding has also mirrored the decline in the number of programs themselves during the past 15 years. Through the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, the Department of Education funds child care projects across the country. In 2001, CCAMPIS awarded $25 million to 307 projects. In 2013, that number dwindled to $15 million for 113 projects. For 2014, only $3.3 million in funding was open to 38 additional projects.
Because child care is a necessity for parents to enroll in college, it’s even more critical when it comes to ensuring academic success once they are attending classes. With shrinking on-campus options, where can student-parents find child care support?
Reliable and affordable child care is the central pillar of support for the country’s 4.8 million college students with children. However, affordable is the key term here and – across the country – paying for child care is increasingly difficult. In fact, research from Child Care Aware of America found that in 2013, the average yearly cost for center-based care for infants was higher than the average annual tuition and fees at four-year public colleges in 31 states. The lack of college care facilities, coupled with continually reduced federal funding, means that prospective students with children may need to look for alternative ways to attend find care and attend college. Those alternatives, most commonly, are family, friends and neighbors, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
While some students are comfortable with having a relative or neighbor provide care, not everyone has this luxury, and some will need to turn to alternative avenues of support.
Postsecondary care centers play an important role in student success by helping student-parents get the child care they need to succeed in school. Although the numbers are not as strong as many parents may like, there are still plenty of on-campus care programs available to students. Some example programs include:
Stanford University On-Site Child Care
St. Paul College On-Campus Child Care & Early Learning Center
University of New Mexico Children’s Campus
University of Florida Baby Gator Child Development and Research Center
Nanny or child care provider services can be found in the local community through services such as Care.com or Online-Nanny.com.
Students should check with their college or university to ask about the CCAMPIS program and if the university provides the program.
Students should ask if the college provides resource and referral services, as some colleges (including online schools) may contract with off-campus child care providers or assist parents in securing child care subsidies or financial assistance to pay for child care.
We offer infant care and play-based, child oriented curriculum for toddlers through preschoolers. A music program and a health and wellness program are incorporated into daily activities. We offer a voluntary pre-k program (Florida’s VPK).
We enroll about 370 children, from about 350 families
Baby Gator does not do research on our own. We host research studies for some and are a data collection site for others. Research studies vary widely. The College of Medicine has conducted a study of the prevalence of MRSA in child care centers at Baby Gator as well as a study of the impact of parents who wear scrubs into the center on the health of the children and staff. The Department of Psychology has done several studies on the development of language and thinking skills, the College of Education has done studies on the effectiveness of teaching strategies, language development and play and the Architecture department has done studies on the impact of room arrangements on children’s behavior and the impact of natural light and ventilation on children’s learning.
Our mission is to expose children to a wide variety of learning opportunities and promote a life-long love of learning. We are fully inclusive, enrolling children regardless of their developmental needs and working with appropriate specialists to ensure that the children grow and develop. We address the whole child and the family, engaging family members in center activities.
Young parents need quality child care to enable them to go to school and stay in school through graduation. Student-parents often have a limited ability to pay for quality care and need the most services, everything from how to potty train to simply getting support and guidance that every new parent needs. Campus-based centers are imbedding in campuses where knowledge and training is readily available and can support these families in a convenient, safe and reasonably priced setting.
We recommend that parents visit the center and meet with the teacher and ask a lot of questions about the classroom atmosphere, the teacher’s philosophy on how children learn, etc. and determine if they feel this setting will support them and their child well.
One alternative for parents struggling to find and pay for child care while attending college is online learning. Instead of going to campus for an education, online programs bring the education to the parents. During the past decade, online education has become a mainstream option, being adopted by both public and private higher education institutions alike. Consider, more than 50 percent of public universities and half of private colleges offered at least one fully-online degree program in 2013, according to research from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Indeed, online learning is a viable alternative, as approximately 5.5 million students were taking at least one online class in 2012 and 2.6 million college students were enrolled in fully-online degree programs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Online education affords parents flexibility and convenience as the classroom can become the home office, the local coffee shop or the kitchen table. Parents can study while the children nap, or after work. Arranging child care and attending becomes much easier when the classroom moves into the home.
Research has routinely found that access to child care is a major concern for parents when selecting a college program. Yet, access is not the only factor when it comes to determining the student-parent friendliness of a university or college. For example, does the school offer residential housing options for parents? Lactation rooms on-campus for nursing mothers? Students service programs aimed directly at students with children? Below are four factors that prospective students should consider when selecting a college program.
Today’s global economy requires a trained, skilled and educated workforce. The decision to go back to school and earn a college degree is a smart one. Employment research from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University estimates 65 percent of all jobs in the US will require a postsecondary education by 2020. The group also projects there will be 55 million job openings between 2010 and 2020, of which 30 percent will require an associate degree or some college and 35 percent will require at least a bachelor’s degree. Indeed, a postsecondary education is quickly becoming the minimum standard for employment and for prospective parents thinking about returning to school – the timing could not be better.
However, it is natural to feel trepidation (along with eagerness) when thinking about sitting in the classroom, researching an essay, or enrolling in a first-time online class. The length of time away from the classroom is irrelevant, as the central worry for adult students with children is discovering and developing a balance between home, work and college responsibilities.
Finding the right fit, the right college, the right program is important. Adult learners – including student-parents – typically require nontraditional services, such as child care and online learning options, and traditionally choose postsecondary institutions that are both affordable and in a convenient location. Some elements to consider are student support services, tuition and fees, transfer of credits, program delivery (e.g. on-campus, online, hybrid), location and degree program availability. Prospective students should not be afraid to shop around to find the program that best fits their personal needs, academic requirements and professional goals.
Before applying or selecting an institution, take the time to read the university’s student handbook. Why? To get an understanding of the types of support and services the university offers to student-parents. Does the university have an on-campus child development and care program? Is counseling available to parents? Does the college provide financial assistance to parents?
Speak to an advisor at the college prior to enrolling (and after). Advisors know the ins and outs of the university and they can get students connected not only to on-campus programs, but off-campus programs where the university partners with local community service providers. Additionally, advisors can walk returning or first-time students through the application process.
If attending an on-campus program, arrange time to visit the campus, talk to department members, and tour child care facilities – getting a sense of the campus culture and environment can help ease the transition process.
There are numerous steps to filling out a college application, like ordering transcripts from high school or previously attended colleges, completing required admissions tests, asking for letters of recommendation, and finishing college prerequisites.
Start the financial aid process as early as possible, which includes filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA® ). Locate and apply for scholarships and work with the college’s financial aid department to ask about college-specific funding scholarships.
Keeping life in check when returning to college is a major concern for most student-parents. Returning students should understand there is an adjustment period, and that it’s going to take some time to establish a comfortable routine. Here are 10 of the top tips to help foster a manageable life/school balance for student-parents.
Some students may find being a full-time student and full-time parent is overwhelming. Consider starting in a part-time program to ease the transition to becoming a student and transition to full-time when ready.
Connect with peers that also have children to network, help each other with studying, and to stay on track to graduate.
Be prepared for homework. Set up a quiet place at home to study and set aside time every day (including weekends) that is dedicated to studying.
Before starting, talk with the family about how going to college will introduce new challenges and new routines.
Remember, going to school and balancing work and family will be stressful. Set up a school and family schedule that allows time for family commitments, exercise, household chores and a break away from being a student.
Before starting, outline both short- and long-term goals. These goals (from finishing the first class to graduating) can help maintain a sense of progress and achievement while in school.
Work with the school or department to get a faculty advisor or counselor. They can provide a variety of support to keep students on track and solve any potential problems that arise.
Don’t forget that being on a college campus can be a rewarding time. Consider joining campus-based programs or organizations to get the most out of the college experience.
Get a student planner and calendar that includes both school and family responsibilities. Keeping that information in one place keeps everyone in the family on the same page.
The toughest, yet most important tip of all. Burning the candle on both ends as a parent and a student can quickly lead to burnout. While it’s tempting to stay up late to get in some quality time with Netflix after work and studies are completed for the day, it’s only going to hurt in the long run when energy has been totally depleted. Get some rest instead.
By staying organized, developing a study routine, and getting enough sleep each night, students should find they will stay on a path to academic success.