If you’re a single parent, you know how much hard work it takes to raise a kid on your own. That effort increases exponentially when more than one child is involved. Throw a day job into the mix, and the workload skyrockets to the point where you barely have time to sleep.
What can you do if you want to improve your career options or move up the ladder at your current job by going back to school? Do you want to get a degree or certificate but feel like you don’t have the time or resources?
Flexible, Resourceful Single-Parent Friendly Colleges
For too many single parents, college seems like an impossible dream. Most people who aren’t parents can appreciate how much work is involved, much less all the expenses that can add up so quickly. Between the time and financial constraints, a college degree can seem out of reach, leading single parents to cast off their hopes and stay stuck in their day-to-day routines.
This problem has not only been recognized but is actively being addressed by several colleges and universities around the nation. These institutions have put genuine effort into understanding and solving the problems that single-parent students face, helping to remove barriers and enhance access. This article will explore what makes a college “single parent-friendly” or “child-friendly” and how you can take advantage of these opportunities to turn your educational dreams into a reality.
Are Schools Making Themselves “Single Parent-Friendly”?
Before we start, let’s make one point clear — every person deserves equal access to higher education. That’s why the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights helps ensure such access is provided by enforcing laws to protect students and potential students against bias and discrimination.
But being a single parent does not, by itself, put a student into such a protected category. Yes, there are laws in place to protect students against discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, sex, age, disabilities, or other factors. But what rules exist to ensure single parents returning to school are given support?
Frankly, such support structures are somewhat lacking at the federal level. Schools aren’t technically required to go out of their way to help single parents based on that status alone. And yet, many do anyway! Why? One reason is economics.
Why Schools Should Focus On Single Parents
In recent decades, schools recognized a huge untapped market in single parents, older adults, and other “nontraditional” student types. Around the same time, the rise of the Internet, in tandem with affordable laptops, allowed for increased online learning opportunities. Thus, colleges started becoming “friendlier” to students they previously sort of ignored.
Aside from the business aspect, colleges are also socially motivated to help single-parent students as part of the wider movement to provide accessible education for everyone. As noted by Forbes, even top-tier universities like Harvard and Stanford now offer online courses and other flexibility suited to working, adult students and single parents.
Meanwhile, as the Covid-19 pandemic jeopardized employment worldwide, many single moms and dads realized they needed to switch careers to have a more stable and prosperous future. As a result, these prospective students are scouring the web searching for convenient, affordable college programs that could set them up for better jobs in a changing economy. Savvy colleges are marketing to these prospects, hoping to entice single-parent students back to school in an era where enrollment is otherwise down.
What Makes a School “Single Parent-Friendly”?
The challenges of single-parent students, as well as their wants and needs, are often different from those of traditional students. It doesn’t make much sense for colleges to treat single-parent students exactly the same as others. This is why, as pointed out by the nonprofit RISE, there is a difference between equality and equity.
“Equality simply means everyone is treated the same exact way, regardless of need or any other individual difference,” RISE notes. “Equity, on the other hand, means everyone is provided with what they need to succeed.”
So what do single parent, nontraditional students need to succeed?
Housing and Daycare
For students attending classes in person, one of the most helpful features is access to an on-site daycare/child care facility for those who need it on a recurring basis or only in a pinch.
Next up would be affordable on-campus family housing for those who want to live on campus while completing their degree. In addition to child care services, it’s also a bonus when schools offer a range of fun activities and engaging camps to keep the little ones occupied and motivated.
In a 2017 Delphi study “Single-Parent Nontraditional Students: Faculty Support within the Classroom Environment,” researchers proved these additional challenges of nontraditional single-parent students:
- “Single-parent nontraditional students have higher stress levels than the traditional student”
- “Most work full time while trying to complete a 4-year degree”
- “[They] are the financial providers for their family,” and “the main caretakers of their children.”
The study went on to show that single-parent students wanted “academic and emotional support from their professors” and “more clarity and assistance in assignments.” They also needed faculty or instructors to be “more accessible via telephone and e-mail” and for them to “show interest in their lives.”
Students identified the following academic strategies they deem beneficial:
Mental and emotional health has the world’s focus more than it ever has. Offering emotional strategies such as faculty, advisors, and other staff showing sincere empathy, care, and understanding, along with continuous encouragement in a welcoming atmosphere. Or more flexible access to counselors to help work through both the assignments, career path, and mental challenges.
Another requirement that should not be overlooked is in-class mentorship, especially from other single-parent college students who can relate to and support each other. U.S. News highlights that comprehensive women and children-focused programs are vital to qualifying a college as “child-friendly.”
Emotional support can even take the form of on-campus mental wellness offices. Such sites should offer free services aimed at bolstering internal strengths and promoting the type of resiliency needed for students to keep going and finish their degrees.
Proactive staff and faculty
As noted by U.S. News, retention is an ongoing struggle, and once a student leaves, they’re unlikely to return.
There are several reasons why students drop out of college, ranging from financial to academic and personal reasons. Single parents are at risk of facing all these hurdles. But through wraparound support, predictive analytics, and timely intervention, schools can not only monitor and track success but ward off problems ahead of time by being proactive, supportive, and taking corrective action as needed.
Sometimes the easier way for single parents to get a degree is to attend classes online or through a hybrid method. This way, there is no concern about housing and less hassle with transportation. That said, online learning can be tough for any student, much less one who has kids at home making it difficult to study or find a quiet place to listen to lectures. Asynchronous courses, flexible course loads, priority enrollment, and online student support services can make a huge difference in single-parent students’ ability to achieve their academic goals.
Financial Aid and Food Banks
Single parent students can naturally apply to the usual range of scholarships. Still, it’s always nice when an institution goes above and beyond by offering scholarships, grants, or discounts just for them! All too often, a few hundred or thousand dollars can make all the difference between a single mom or dad getting an education that can change their lives and help set up their children for success down the road. Meanwhile, access to free, quality food banks can help struggling single parents make ends meet.
10 Single Parent-Friendly Colleges In The U.S.
Below is a concise list of outstanding single-parenting-friendly colleges and universities throughout the country. While this isn’t a “top ten” ranking, it may offer insight into the types of benefits and resources you should scan for as you search for the perfect school for you!
1. Auburn University
Alabama’s Auburn University is a great place for single parents, especially young mothers who want the privacy of breastfeeding rooms and Tiger Babies Breastfeeding stations. Auburn’s Baby Steps program offers several exciting services related to housing, childcare, and educational support, such as tutoring and career counseling. There are free resources for developing parenting and life skills, alongside a nurturing community support structure aimed at “instill[ing] confidence in our moms’ abilities to be successful mothers, students, and college graduates.”
2. College of Saint Mary
For nearly a century, the College of Saint Mary has served as Nebraska’s premier private Catholic women’s school. Small, at under 1,500 enrolled students, CSM sponsors a renowned Mothers Living & Learning program, hosts a child development center, and features on-campus housing for single moms. There are strong support groups, a caring Single Parent Success program, and various initiatives to improve parent students’ college experience!
3. Colorado State University – Fort Collins
CSU – Fort Collins is home to the Aggie Village Family Apartments, which provide 2-bedroom housing with furnished or unfurnished options, washer hookups — and all utilities included! The complex has on-site permit parking but is also within walking distance of campus and bus stops. Single parents love the three on-campus childcare centers, as well. Students may be eligible for school-sponsored scholarships and can benefit from CSU Global’s convenient online programs.
4. Eastern Kentucky University
Eastern Kentucky University has undergone many changes over its nearly 150-year history, including an extensive campus revitalization project launched in 2012. EKU has also leaned forward to make life easier for single parents through its Center for Student Parents, which offers “academic support, supportive services, mentoring, tutoring, career guidance, and work-study placements.” Additionally, the university’s Eastern Scholar House Program offers housing priority to qualified parents and manages a child center for preschool-age children.
5. Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana, is the proud home of Purdue, a sprawling 2,400-acre historic campus conveniently located near shopping centers. The school’s student-faculty ratio is 13:1, enabling individualized attention beneficial for single-parent students. Purdue’s undergraduate Nontraditional Student Services’ “Span Plan” features helpful, group-supported planning and childcare assistance scholarships for parent students.
6. Texas Woman’s University
Established in 1901 to help smalltown women obtain vocational training, the pioneering Texas Woman’s University soon became an acclaimed, fully-fledged institution offering degree programs at the bachelor, master, and doctoral levels. Home to many sororities and featuring competitive athletics programs, TWU is super single parent-friendly with affordable on-campus family housing, a Clubhouse children’s enrichment program, and an active Campus Alliance for Resource Education center.
7. University of Central Florida
Florida’s Orange County is home to the suburban University of Central Florida, a public research school with a large, diverse student body of ~72,000. The Orlando campus’ Creative School for Children provides fun, accessible daycare for young children of UCF students. The university also features private lactation rooms, a free food pantry, and has, in the past, offered a Student Government Single Parent Scholarship (please check UCF’s website for updates on its next scholarship cycle).
8. University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
Nestled on the sun-drenched island of O’ahu, the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa enjoys the rare status of being a land, sea, space, and sun land grant research institution. Though the area can be expensive, the Student Parents of Mānoa (SPAM) helps single parents find scholarships such as the Patsy T. Mink Education Foundation Scholarship and Soroptimist Scholarship. The school provides a range of services for students with kids plus hosts an on-site childcare center and family-friendly housing.
9. University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Founded in 1966, UMBC (not to be confused with the University of Maryland, Baltimore) received an A grade from alumni and student reviews for career preparation! The university’s Office of Equity & Inclusion features many helpful resources for student pregnancy and parenting, including family-friendly spaces, lactation rooms, and a Moms and Parents Group. The Women’s Center is also a great place for the community to meet and support advocacy efforts.
10. Wilson College
Located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Wilson College is a private liberal arts school with a ~93% acceptance rate. Historically a women’s college, Wilson began admitting males in 2014. Its Single Parent Scholar Program provides “family-friendly, on-campus housing year-round to single parents and their children” (up to two children, ages 20 months – 10 years), empowering single moms and dads to attend school full time. Wilson features a free, award-winning Child Care Center and recently dropped its housing fee for eligible students.
If you’re looking for other schools that offer resources for single parents, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!