A college degree can be a critical tool to economic stability, security, and advancement, yet structural and systemic issues create challenges for some students. Black single mothers pursuing higher education are disproportionately impacted by factors including lack of child care, educational affordability, and housing. Because of the compounding impact of intersecting forms of discrimination, policymakers must take an intersectional approach, targeting the structural disadvantages that affect Black women’s experiences within higher education.
Due to a history of discrimination and educational disenfranchisement, Black women are more likely to be low-income and first-generation students. Black women enroll in college at higher rates than White, Hispanic, and Black men, but well over half of those who start college do not earn a certificate or degree within six years of enrollment. Further, roughly 65% of Black women in higher education attend community college, and nearly three-fourths of Black women are single mothers. College students with children are twice as likely to drop out before graduation than students with no children. With limited financial resources, lack of access to affordable childcare, and the struggle that comes with balancing work, family, and school obligations, Black single mothers are disadvantaged compared to other college students.
For Black single mothers, a lack of financial resources is one of the major barriers preventing them from attaining a degree. Three-fourths of Black single mother students (74.7%) report that they probably or certainly could not come up with $2,000 within the next month. Alleviating financial barriers to degree attainment for Black single mother students, including mounting student loan debt and the unaffordability of college tuition, would mean that they are able to create a better life for themselves and their families. IWPR research has previously reported that Black single mothers carry more debt than parents and nonparents of any other racial/ethnic background.
A lack of accessible, affordable childcare is another major barrier facing Black single mother college students. In the past twenty years, campus childcare has decreased by nearly 25%. As access to childcare has decreased, the overall cost of care has increased. This increase in childcare costs is more problematic when combined with the insurgence of childcare worker shortages and limitations of childcare at nontraditional hours. These barriers in childcare make it more difficult for Black single mothers to attend classes, complete schoolwork, and balance day-to-day life, overall deterring them from obtaining their degree.
As part of an effort to ensure access to childcare for parenting students, policymakers should fully fund the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) grant program. CCAMPIS provides funding to support or establish campus-based childcare programs and it is vital that the program remains funded to support student parents. It is essential for policymakers to fund CCAMPIS to ensure that childcare is an available and affordable option to assist student parents in continuing their education.
The student debt crisis affects most students in the United States; however, according to IWPR research, Black student mothers and fathers were more likely to take out loans to attend and complete college and are slightly more likely to struggle with loan repayment than student parents overall. Additionally, student mothers struggled more than student fathers: they had more trouble with loan repayment and had more difficulty making ends meet. The expansion of federal student debt relief is particularly important for Black single mothers in college to aid them in overcoming financial barriers that push them further into poverty. Policymakers must push toward national student debt relief, as this will have a direct impact on student parents and will alleviate a portion of the financial strife that prevents them from advancing economically.
Research shows that earning a college degree increases one’s lifetime earnings, and policy should strive to ensure that Black single mothers aren’t left out of education. Increasing access to education for Black single mothers means creating opportunities for them, their families, and communities. Policymakers should approach legislation regarding safety net and financial assistance programs through an intersectional lens, paying attention to the impact of structural racism and gender-based inequities to create a more equitable future for Black single mother students. It is vital that policymakers across the country work to alleviate barriers to higher education for Black single mothers, as the future of the United States is in the hands of todays and tomorrow’s students.