This article, which is part of our latest Learning special report, was produced with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit independent news organization covering education.


Diane Bennett calls the large on-campus house she lives in the “frat house.” But the gatherings she and her four housemates throw aren’t sloppy ragers so much as children’s birthday parties. And when they turn to one another for help, it’s most often for babysitting so they can sneak in a few hours at the library.

Ms. Bennett, 31, is in her final semester at Misericordia University, in Dallas, Pa. She’s also a single mother of an 11-year-old son (King, below, with his mother). Three years ago, she enrolled in the university’s Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children Program, one of a handful of programs in the country that help single mothers finish college.

Nationally, nearly one in five female college students is a single mother, but only 28 percent graduate, according to a 2017 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Katherine Pohlidal, who directs Misericordia’s program, said its rate is 73 percent, thanks to free housing and meal plans for the women and their children, plus help accessing scholarships, an emergency fund, career counseling and other support. Last year, Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania announced funding to expand the model to other colleges in the state.

Ms. Bennett expects to graduate in December, then enroll in a master’s program to become a C.P.A. While the pandemic probably precludes a big graduation ceremony, she will make sure her son sees her in cap and gown. “And it’s going to be expected that he does the same. It’s not just first generation,” she said of the program’s impact. “It’s second generation too.”

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