By Pearl Stewart

Access to campus child care is a key factor in determining if single mothers in college will graduate within six years, according to the latest in a series of reports released Wednesday by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Just 8 percent of single mothers who enroll in college graduate with an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 49 percent of women students who are not mothers, stated the report, “Investing in Single Mothers’ Higher Education: Costs and Benefits to Individuals, Families, and Society.”

In addition, the vast majority, 89 percent, of single student mothers have low incomes and no money of their own or from their families to cover college expenses.

Researchers also pointed out that single mothers’ low completion rates “are particularly concerning given the high proportion who are students of color: 37 percent of Black women, 27 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native women, 19 percent of Hispanic women, and 14 percent of White women in college are single mothers.”

For those who graduate, a college degree leads to increased earnings, higher rates of employment, improved health and increased civic engagement for single mothers, and positive outcomes for their children as well. But the roadblocks for single mothers are formidable, primarily the obstacle of child care.

At one institution in the study, “Student parents who used the campus child care center had triple the on-time graduation rate of student parents who did not use the center.”

Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, one of the three co-authors of the report, told Diverse the study was focused on a student population that was known to be struggling.

“What we set out to do was to understand: What does earning a college degree mean for the single mother population in particular?” Reichlin Cruse said. “We wanted to quantify the economic benefits to single mothers and their families as well as to society so that we could make the case that investing in supports that would help them graduate pays off, and what we found was that it pays off for them multiple times — and for society.”

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