Single student mothers are growing in both absolute numbers and as a share of the college population. They often face significant financial and time-related obstacles that make it difficult for them to persist to graduation. Investing in programs and supports that target the needs of single mothers has the potential to improve their rates of college attainment, and increase earnings, which can lead to a range of multigenerational benefits. This briefing paper provides data on single mothers in postsecondary education and discusses the potential benefits of increasing their college attainment rates for individuals, families, and society as a whole.
The number of single mothers in college more than doubled between the 1999-00 and 2011-12 school years, to reach nearly 2.1 million students—or 11 percent of all undergraduates—as of 2012 (Figure 1; IWPR 2017a). The growth in single mothers in college was more than twice the rate of growth seen among the overall undergraduate student population (42 percent) over the same time period (IWPR 2017a). Among female undergraduates, 19 percent were single mothers as of 2011-12 (IWPR 2017b).