For the more than 1 million single moms in college, getting a degree appears to be a worthy investment, as long as they’re able to make it through.
For every dollar a single mom in college invests in her education, she gets back $16.45 in increased earnings if she earns an associate’s degree and $8.50 if she earns a bachelor’s degree, according to a study published this week by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a think tank. (The study found that each dollar invested goes farther for an associate’s degree because the cost is significantly less than a bachelor’s degree).
But reaching the finish line can be elusive for this group, putting their investment in jeopardy. Just 8% of single mothers who enroll in college graduate within six years, compared to about 49% of women in college overall, IWPR notes. That’s because these students often struggle to find the funds to afford college — 89% of single mothers in school are low-income — and typically need to balance child care, working and school responsibilities.
Though the research is relatively thin, there’s evidence to suggest that investing in support services for student-parents, like campus child-care programs, increase the likelihood that they’ll persist and graduate. The new brief adds to that body of research. It shows that when single moms are able to complete college, it pays off for them and society.
“It’s a reasonable argument to make that it’s a worthwhile investment,” said Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, a senior research associate at IWPR and the co-author of the study.
When single moms graduate from college it makes a huge difference in the amount of money they’re able to earn for them and their families. Single mothers with an associate’s degree who work full-time and year-round earn $329,498 more over their lifetimes than those with just a high school diploma, the study found. Single mothers who earn a bachelor’s degree and work year-round and full-time make $610,324 more during their lives than those who only graduated high school.
Those extra earnings mean that these women are less likely to struggle financially — just 13% of single mothers with a bachelor’s degree live in poverty compared to 62% of those with less than a high school diploma, IWPR found. They will also likely pay more in taxes and rely less on government assistance, Reichlin Cruse said. That extra education — and money — will also help to set their children up for success.
Policymakers and college officials should do what they can to help single mothers succeed in school, Reichlin Cruse said. Congress appears to recognize this: Lawmakers increased the funding for on-campus child-care programs for low-income students, though it remains to be seen exactly how that money will be spent.
“It’s a major savings for our society and for our federal government,” when single mothers graduate from college, Reichlin Cruse said. “It’s kind of a win-win for everyone.”