Continuing Education

Going back to college as a single mom

December 21, 2016 by Lindsay Racen

Mothers who dedicate themselves to achieving their professional goals while they set positive examples for their kids are some of the most inspiring people. Working and raising a family on your own is challenging enough, but adding college to the mix pretty much bedazzles the cape of the supermom outfit. To help out the best way we know how, here are some tips for those going back to school as single parents.

You're Not Alone

Before we get started, let's check out some historic and recent trends for women in higher education and the workforce.

  • Since the 1980's, women's enrollment in higher education institutions has almost doubled, to nearly 12 million - U.S. Census Bureau
  • More than 60% of online students today are women, the majority of them over age 25 - American Association of University Women
  • Moms are breadwinners in 40% of households - Pew Research Center
  • A growing share of mothers choose entrepreneurship for their careers - Population Reference Bureau
  • Women with bachelor's degrees earn up to double the salary of women without them - Jeannette Rankin Scholarship Fund

What does all this mean? It's possible to wear the supermom cape and look good doing it! So here are a few things to consider when going back to college as a single mom.

Finding The Funding

It is estimated that those who pursue four year degrees should expect to pay from between $40,000 at a minimum to a couple hundred thousand at a top university. For most people that is a pretty big sticker price, and for single parents over the age of 25, who not only have to support themselves but also a family, it's almost impossible.

Both government and private entities have instituted alternative options to loans for single parents striving to attain higher education without spending the rest of their lives paying for it. Julia Layton from How Stuff Works outlines how financial aid for single mothers works. Here are some top takeaways from her lessons.

Government Grants

One of the earliest goals of the Obama administration back in 2009 was to create opportunities for single parents to get back in school, leveraging the federal Pell Grant to do so. Although the financial aid itself is open to a wider audience, certain legislative changes that were made also give enhanced assistance to single moms in particular. The amount of aid that is granted is calculated based on demonstrated need, and single parenthood is highly weighted, giving individuals in this situation advantages.

Many states also offer their own education grants for at-need students and single parents. Some state programs like California's CalGrant actually take each applicant's family status into consideration. Students are encouraged to check their local state standards and regulations for regional opportunities for the best results. Washington State's Opportunity Pathways Program for example offers scholarships and grants to students based not only on financial need, but also are tailored to applicants that study in state shortage areas such as math, science and health care.

Scholarships for Single Moms

"Free Money" - What a wonderful phrase! It's even better than "Hakuna Matata" while it also embodies the Lion King mantra in a way. Seeking support from private foundations can be a great way to help finance your education. These organizations typically base their awards not only on demonstrated need, but also achievement oriented conditions. A good amount of them are also aimed primarily at women and their unique situations, including those for single moms specifically. Here's a quick starter list:

  • Soroptimist Women's Opportunity Awards – Created to assist women who provide the primary source of financial support for their families by giving them the resources they need to improve their education, skills and employment prospects. Each year more than $1.6 million in education grants are awarded to more than 1,200 women in need.
  • Jeannette Rankin Foundation Scholarships – This one is great because not only does it support single parents, but it is made for adult students over the age of 25. Since 1976 the scholarship fund has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to more than 700 women.
  • Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation Scholarship for Mature Women – Also focused on adult learners, but this time over 25 and that have completed at least 60 credits of undergraduate work. The Foundation's latest grants in support of this program total $720,500 for scholarships to be awarded in the 2014-15 academic year
  • Barry Goldwater Scholarship – Similar to Washington State’s Opportunity Pathways Program, this scholarship is primarily for women that study in under-represented fields in the workforce, in this case science, mathematics and engineering.
  • American Association of University Women – This organization has generally awarded scholarships to women pursuing careers in nontraditional fields. Although Brandman has campuses throughout California and Washington, our online students nationwide may explore options through this organization with regional chapters offering different scholarships.

This is just a small sampling of organizations that have single parents and their futures in priority positioning. As with any large investment, students are encouraged to do their homework and explore all funding options before moving forward.

Nontraditional Study Options

Schools like Brandman that tailor to the nontraditional student are oftentimes the best fit for single moms going back to college to pursue their degrees. With the rate of technological advancement impacting the higher education landscape, different types of modern day learning methods are available to accommodate even the busiest of schedules. In addition, many of these programs are offered on accelerated time lines which sometimes can translate to significant overall financial savings.

On Campus Learning

Many people learn best when they interact face-to-face with their peers but working professionals don't always have the time to attend day time classes multiple times a week like traditional four-year schools have. In these cases, nontraditional universities that allow students to attend class once a week in the evening and supplement their experiences with online education tools provides much needed flexibility. Brandman University is one of these institutions that offers this blended type of schooling that allows students to pursue their career while they manage family and school commitments.

Fully Online Programs

If on campus learning is not the best option, fully online degree programs are available and offered by nontraditional and an increased number traditional schools alike. Our previous article The Essential Checklist For Going Back To College talks a little more about e-learning technologies and provides some resources to prepare for interacting in a cloud environment. Although the face-to-face time is not physically involved, there are many other ways to connect with professors and classmates. Discussion boards often give assignments a social aspect and group projects are generally as frequent online as they are on ground. Online conferencing tools also allow students to collaborate no matter where their group members are throughout the world.

The Next Generation of Education

Another innovation that technology has brought to academia is the concept of Competency-Based Education, or CBE. One of the most important things to understand about CBE is that it’s all about mastery and direct application. It’s ideal for seasoned professionals that have extensive experience in a field and was developed with employer-demanded skills and abilities in mind. Brandman University will be revealing its competency-based BBA options in the near future which are designed for mobile devices and utilize assessment software to facilitate learning. Learn more about Competency-Based Education and its benefits for the next generation of higher education solutions.

Keep Your Inspiration Close By

In addition to the numbers and technical information, single moms going back to college often draw strength from those who are nearest and dearest to them. Recent alumnus Sandy Ramos shared her story as a single parent with our community to illustrate the motivation behind her success by saying:

This touching testimonial reminds us that parents, single or not, strive for more not only for themselves, but primarily for the ones they love. With so much going on, it sometimes helps to keep a token with you to remind yourself of the purpose and mission that a degree will allow you to accomplish. It’s a simple and humble recommendation but can sometimes be the driving factor to push through to achieve your dreams.

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