Full-Time Single Mothers Are Also Full-Time Students
> 11/10/2006 11:00:25 AM

The struggles of single parents working, raising children and attending classes for career advancement are unfortunately well documented, but the idea that unmarried or divorced mothers can become full-time college students and even live in specially designed dormitories with their children is no longer radical. While the practice is not common, a growing number of schools across the country, many with religious roots, allow for such accomodations.

Single mothers and their children are the largest growing group of impoverished Americans. The poverty rate among single working mother households is an astounding 21 percent, or twice the rate for single father households and four times the rate of those with two parents. For mothers without college or high school degrees, the job market is depressingly small, and many end up in minimum-wage positions offering salaries as low as $15,000 for 40-hour weeks. With such time constraints, many of these women also struggle to find affordable child-care, after school programs, and transportation. The competing pressures of paying expenses and devoting time to children leaves little time for a continuing education which could offer the only possibility of moving toward a better career. Financial aid, while crucial, can lead to longstanding debt.

Programs like Women with Children at Pennsylvania's all-female Wilson College are the country's most comprehensive, attracting students from areas as far removed as Missouri, New Jersey, and Virginia. This school offers an entire dormitory for mothers and their children, where play areas sit comfortably alongside study rooms and hall kitchens. Its decade-old program is one of the nation's longest-running, and a dozen other schools have followed suit with similar offerings. Schools like New Jersey's Rutgers University offer online classes as a potentially satisfying alternative, but many students may find online education less comprehensive and easier to disregard. Though programs like Wilson's usually do not allow for even part-time work outside of school and carry larger financial burdens that may require years to erase, they offer the total college package to those who simply cannot experience it in a traditional setting. One of the most important aspects of these programs is the social and emotional support single mothers can hopefully glean from spending extended periods together.

Like proponents of the previous decade's welfare-reform debate, some Americans save little sympathy for unmarried mothers, arguing that their own life choices led to the difficult situations in which they find themselves, but such dismissive character judgements add nothing positive to the issue. The fact is that single mothers, especially those stuck in undesirable financial situations and lacking sufficient educational experience, need all the help they can get, and the popularity of programs like Wilson's may lead to greater opportunities for them in coming years.

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