While many of today’s college students still uphold the criterion for being “traditional” (e.g., under 21, attending college straight after high school), more and more students are coming from different backgrounds. Each year, 2.1 million single mothers enroll in higher education, and according to research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, nearly 90 percent were low-income, 43 percent worked more than 30 hours a week, and 40 percent said they were likely or very likely to drop out due to dependent care obligations. Despite their significant presence in higher education, single moms are under-served. Thankfully, a new partnership between Monroe Community College (MCC) and Education Design Lab, a nonprofit that designs and tests unique college models to help underserved students, will help provide resources and improve graduation rates for these individuals.
Along with Central New Mexico Community College, Delgado Community College, and Ivy Tech Community College, Monroe Community College will participate in Education Design Lab’s Single Moms Success Design Challenge, a student-centered design-innovation process. The program consists of an intensive two-year design and prototype phase, followed by a multi-year evaluation. MCC will design, launch, and test scalable interventions to increase attainment rates for single mothers pursuing a degree or credential from a community college.
Education Design Lab will also provide assistance from higher education design specialists for the two-year design process, leading to a pilot; a one-time “start-up fund” $50,000 to support the pilot launch on campus; two national convenings and two on-campus design sessions; structured lab team support; access to subject matter experts; and knowledge dissemination and evaluation. As a participating institution, MCC must compile a cross-functional working group of critical stakeholders, commit to achieve 30% growth in associate degree or credential attainment for single mother students, demonstrate and maintain commitment at presidents’ level, and fully engage in the Single Moms Success Learning Cohort/Community.
MCC is already committed to better understanding and serving single mother learners, as they are the only college across the country capturing data about student parents outside of the FAFSA financial aid form. Dr. Mary Ann DeMario, a research specialist in MCC’s Institutional Research Office, has been recognized by Governor Cuomo and at the national level for this work on student parents. Her research involved collecting data on student parents through various surveys and research instruments that go beyond the FAFSA form, and this research ultimately led to the campus being chosen for the Education Design Lab program.
Additionally, MCC’s Brighton campus offers resources to students who are parents through the Richard M. Guon Child Care Center, and providing these services to single moms is crucial, because research shows that these students who have access to child care graduate at three times the rate as opposed to those who do not. This is especially important for MCC’s student body, as 94% of their students who are single moms are economically disadvantaged, which means they are living at or below the federal poverty line.
The work to aid single mothers at MCC will also have far reaching benefits as well. Stated by Barbara Gault, Ph.D., the executive vice president of the Institute of Women’s Policy Research in Washington, DC, “When we invest in their postsecondary success, we are helping single mothers build a better future for their families, which benefits communities and society as a whole.” Monroe Community College President Anne M. Kress agrees, “Participating in this design challenge will help support our single mother students transform their lives, the lives of their children, and their community. We are excited to expand to design more targeted services to increase degree attainment among this unique population.”
While the pilot program is not set to launch until September and October of 2020, SUNY remains dedicated to offering each of our students an accessible and excellent education. A major facet of being able to do so requires understanding that our students have differing needs and require varying resources to succeed. The partnership being forged between Monroe Community College and Education Design Lab is a clear example of this commitment, as more women and their families will receive access to the help they need to excel academically and achieve a great milestone: graduate from college.
Julie is the assistant director for student mental health and wellness for SUNY System Administration.