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Defying the odds, single moms head off to college

Although only about 25 percent of single mothers who start college will graduate with a degree after a reasonable amount of time, more and more mothers are seeking to further their education.

According to a new briefing paper from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the number of single mothers in college has more than doubled since 1999.

The report is based on numbers available for the 2011-2012 school year.

Women of color are among those most likely to be single mothers while attending college. The report states that 37 percent of black women, 27 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native women, 19 percent of Hispanic women, 17 percent of multiracial women, 14 percent of white women, and 7 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander women are students who are also single mothers.

Students who are single mothers face increased financial challenges as well as time constraints.

The report also indicates that nine out of 10 single mothers in college have low incomes with 63 percent living at or below poverty level.

Single mothers who earn a bachelor’s degree will also have close to $30,000 in student debt a year after graduation, which is $4,800 more than a woman graduate with no children.

Two in five mothers attending community college say they are likely or very likely to drop out because of the difficulty of caring for their children while going to school.

More than half of the single mothers attending college work at least 20 hours a week, which often decreases the likelihood of success. Single mothers are half as likely to graduate as women with no children. Only one out of four women who began college in 2003 earned a degree by 2009, compared with 57 percent of women students without children.

“Balancing child care, coursework, and paid work can make college an impossible juggling act for single mothers,” said Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, senior research associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and co-author of the paper. “These women are giving all that they can to finish college and make a better life for their families.”