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March 7, 2016


Single parents made up more than 15% of the undergraduate population in US colleges and universities as of 2012. According to the American Council on Education, more than half of this demographic were first generation college students and in the low-income bracket. Though students who are single parents may be fighting a seemingly uphill battle to fund their college experience, there are significant rewards in higher education. The New York Times recently reported that workers in America with a college degree earned 74% more than those with only a high school diploma. So, low income single parents stand to benefit financially in the long term from obtaining a college degree, but most do not have the funds to enroll. Many find financial assistance through scholarships and grants specifically created for their demographic. After all, it is always advisable for single moms and dads to maximize “free money” through scholarships and grants.

Unique Challenges

While attending college as a single parent can be challenging in several ways, most single mothers and single fathers report financial hardship as the most difficult obstacle. Single parents typically spend at least two thirds of their income on housing and basic necessities, and most do not have extra income to put toward a college education. The USDA estimates the average cost of raising a child in a middle-income household to be more than $200,000, which is more than $13,000 per year for 18 years, with housing and childcare expenses among the most costly of child-rearing expenditures, respectively. This financial difficulty, combined with a lack of time and child care options, can make going back to school after becoming a parent especially hard.

Single FatherFinding reliable childcare as a single parent with both school and work obligations can be especially difficult. College students are often at the pinnacle of their academic career, and the pressure is on to attend courses, meet deadlines and find time to study in between. Trying to balance work and school schedules and finding affordable childcare to accommodate an increasingly irregular schedule is not easy. Additionally, single-parent students may only be able to work part time, which means they may not have the income to be able to afford safe, clean housing for themselves and their children. As a response to this growing need for reasonably priced child care that can be provided as needed for college students, some states such asOregon and Minnesota have developed their own grants designed to provide support in the form of child care for college students.

Overcoming the unique challenges of being a single-parent student can begin with researching financial aid options specifically for your demographic.

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