A large share of students in college are mothers who have to balance raising their children with finishing homework and attending classes.
The decision to enroll in higher education is not always easy for moms — especially single parents. Unlike traditional college students, moms have to figure out babysitters, juggle school work with parenting responsibilities, and figure out financial aid as an independent student.
Only three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Nonprofit Quarterly reported that the unemployment crisis hit single moms harder than other parents. In June 2020, 17% of all women had lost their jobs, disrupting careers for moms. Single moms also had to scramble for childcare during shutdowns or find the time and energy to monitor their children during virtual learning.
If you are a mom considering a new career — especially if you lost a job due to the pandemic — you may benefit from returning to school. Earning a degree pays off: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers with a high school diploma earned a median pay of $746 per week, while pay for those with a bachelor's degree jumped to $1,248 per week. That adds up to over $26,000 per year.
A college degree also translates to a lower unemployment rate. People with a high school diploma faced a 3.7% unemployment rate in 2019, while those with a bachelor's degree had a 2.2% unemployment rate.
According to the Aspen Institute, about 22% of undergraduate students in 2016 were parents — and 43% of those parents were single mothers. While it may seem impossible to balance school with parenting, student parents actually earn higher grades than other students.
Online programs offer the flexibility single parents need to succeed in earning a degree. In 2019, 41% of online students were single parents.
Benefits of an Online Education
If you're a single parent, online college makes a lot of sense. It offers more flexibility than an on-campus program, which makes it easier for moms to earn a degree, especially during the age of COVID-19.
With so many parents dealing with schedule disruptions and school closures, it is harder than ever for single parents to find time for their own education. Online colleges that offer classes on an asynchronous schedule let distance learners complete coursework at any time from anywhere.
Thanks to online programs, moms can watch lectures and do homework on their own schedules. Instead of trying to find a babysitter to watch the kids while their mom attends an in-person class, student parents can arrange their coursework around other responsibilities. Parents monitoring their children's virtual learning can complete coursework alongside their kids.
In addition to schedule flexibility, online colleges offer other benefits for student parents. At many schools, distance learners can earn credits at their own pace or even create their own programs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, single mothers can receive federal student aid by filling out the FAFSA. Parents are considered independent students on the FAFSA regardless of their age, so mothers will not need to provide financial information from their own parents. Single mothers often qualify for need-based aid, like the Pell Grant, or for student loans.
Yes, single mothers can participate in student loan forgiveness programs. For instance, mothers who take out federal student loans and work for a government or nonprofit organization can enroll in public student loan forgiveness. This program forgives any remaining balance after borrowers make 120 monthly payments. Moms can also participate in income-driven loan repayment plans to lower their monthly payments.
Single parents can set themselves up for success in college by planning ahead. Choosing a program with flexible scheduling options, such as an online program, can help parents balance school with their family responsibilities. Student parents should also look into support services at their schools and block off time in their calendars to work on assignments and projects.
Balancing school with kids is always a challenge. Student parents can help balance their schoolwork with their parenting responsibilities by seeking out programs with flexible scheduling options and looking for blocks of time that they can dedicate to school, such as when their kids are at school, napping, or have gone to bed.
Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.
Header Image Credit: Violeta Stoimenova | Getty Images
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