If you are a single parent, you are not alone: National KIDS COUNT reports that, as of 2012, 35 percent of children in the United States were raised by a single parent, a percentage that has slowly edged upward over the past five years. In addition to being the primary caretaker, single parents can have it tough in many other ways: they are more likely to struggle with poverty, more likely to have lower levels of education, and more likely to rent rather than own their own home when compared to married parents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
One solution to these difficulties can be completing a degree. By investing in an accredited college education, single parents can work toward building a career with a potential for higher income. Yet, the same type of academic goals that are achievable for adult students without children may be highly complex for single parents who encounter a greater demand on their time and money. "Single parents face the same stressors as other students, but usually at a more intense level," said Dr. Jane Owen, Professor Emeritus with Midwestern State University, in Wichita Falls, Texas. "Finances can be at the top of the list, followed by child care and chronic time pressure."
Many schools are aware of the time constraints and financial dilemmas faced by single parents, and have support programs in place to help. Online programs may be good options for single parents, providing them with the opportunity to maintain a job and to do their classwork at a time that works for them, whether that's on their lunch break or late at night when a child is asleep. "College can be a daunting challenge for anyone, and single parents have additional complications to deal with," Owen said. "Online classes can be a great way to complete one's education in the evening without having to leave the children with babysitters or bringing them to class."
Online learning can be helpful to single parents for a variety of reasons, but students also need to be sure the school they choose will be a good fit. "It is important that prospective students research colleges and understand the climate and support services available," said Dr. Rita Toliver-Roberts, VP of Academic Advancement, at Peirce College in Philadelphia, which offers programs online as well as on campus, including day, evening and weekend classes. "Selecting a college that caters to adult working/nontraditional students is critical. Some services that single parents should consider include: flexibility scheduling options, such as day, evening, and accelerated; varied course delivery options, such as on campus and online; and the offering of support services online and/or during the day, evening, and weekend."
The following colleges for single parents are ordered according to tuition rates (lowest to highest). This list highlights a wide variety of support services for single parents, and all of them offer online learning programs. Tuition figures are sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics and reflect the general cost of undergraduate tuition for the 2013-2014 school year. In-state tuition rates are included when figures are available.
#1 - Texas Woman's University
- Tuition: $7,339 (2013-2014)
- Location: Denton, TX
TWU caters to parents -- including single parents -- through a variety of student services and programs. Single parents have access to budget-friendly family housing, including furnished or unfurnished units of various sizes. Endowments such as the Curry Endowment Fund or the Dawson Endowment, meanwhile, provide scholarships for single parents. Yet another program serving single parents: TWU's Single Parent Resources Information Networking Technology Scholarship (SPRINT), which can help students cover child care expenses and even secure a free laptop. SPRINT also connects students with tailored career, academic and personal development guidance.
Online Learning: From the undergraduate degree to graduate education, single parents wanting to advance their learning can turn to a wide range of online programs offered through Texas Woman's University. Some of the degrees offered include Criminal Justice, Family Studies, Library Science, and Occupational Therapy, and utilize both hybrid and fully online education. A Doctor of Nursing Practice and PhD in Nursing Science are also available online.
#2 - University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire
- Tuition: $8,710 (2013-2014)
- Location: Eau Claire, WI
For many single parents, a tight budget can make college seem all but impossible. This is precisely why the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire offers a number of scholarships for single parents. While some are single mother scholarships, others are available to dads, too. As of 2013, there were seven such scholarships of various denominations listed on the school's official website. All students are required to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) prior to applying.
Online Learning: From individual credit and non-credit courses to full degree programs, single parents can find a variety of options available at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire through online learning. The school offers professional and career-based programs, from a Bachelor's of Science degree in Nursing to an MBA, and beyond.
#3 - University of Oregon
- In-State Tuition: $9,763 (2013-2014)
- Location: Eugene, OR
If the lives of single parents are busy, those of single parents going to college can be downright chaotic. Having access to safe, child-friendly campus housing and family-centered support services can help. The University of Oregon offers family-friendly apartments and gives students with at least one minor child top priority. The school's Work-Life Resources offer a number of additional programs for parents, including child care, a family recreation program and parenting resources. New moms can even access lactation support.
Online Learning: The University of Oregon has offered online courses since 1996. While no undergraduate degrees are currently available online, students can choose from single online class offerings that range from anthropology to astronomy and geology to special education. A Master of Science in Applied Information Management is also available online.
#4 - University of Michigan
- In-State Tuition: $13,142 (2013-2014)
- Location: Ann Arbor, MI
The University of Michigan supports parents through a wide breadth of programs, including community health clinics and social support programs. Students with children can get financial support through grants, tax credits and child care subsidies and can find affordable services through one of the university's child care centers. A program called Kids Kare at Home can also help students find off-site care during emergency situations, such as when a child is sick or one's regular child care service is unavailable. Perhaps one service that separates U-M from many other institutions, however, is health insurance. The school offers specialized university health insurance plans and access to state-run programs, such as MIChild and Healthy Kids.
Online Learning: Single parents and other adult learners can find niche opportunities to pursue advanced science and health-based education at the University of Michigan with online learning options. Degrees offered include Dental Hygiene; Health Management and Policy; and Integrated Systems and Design.
#5 - Peirce College
• Tuition: $17,040 (2013-2014)
• Location: Philadelphia, PA
For 150 years, Peirce College has served non-traditional students, including single parents, with the education and learning helpful to career establishment. Peirce works to provide flexibility to single parents and working–adult students as they balance work, home, and family responsibilities. Students can find Associate, Bachelor's, graduate and degree-completion programs available on campus, as well as others online or through a combination of both formats. Courses may also be available during the day or evening or in accelerated format.
Online Learning: Peirce College launched its first web-based courses in 2000 to adapt to the unique needs of its non-traditional student body. The same support services that students can find on campus are also available online to make college accessible for single parents and working adults. Online degrees are available in Business, Health, Information Technology, and Legal Studies. The school also offers a Master’s of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management online or in hybrid format.
#6 - College of Saint Mary
- Tuition: $26,934 (2013-2014)
- Location: Omaha, NE
A Catholic all-women's college with a focus on education, the College of Saint Mary offers its Mothers Living & Learning Program to help single mothers earn their degrees while raising children from the age of six weeks to 10 years. With suite-style living available in its Madonna Hall and a student group just for moms, the school supports single mothers completing their degrees. The school's Single Parents Success program helps single mothers learn more about parenting strategies and even to locate a pediatrician for a child.
Online Learning: Graduate programs at the College of Saint Mary take a blended approach by combining campus-based and online learning. Evening and weekend classes are also options, making it easier for single parents to continue on in full-time jobs while they pursue an advanced education.
#7 - Baldwin Wallace University
- Tuition: $27,840 (2013-2014)
- Location: Berea, OH
Baldwin Wallace University's Single Parents Reaching Out for Unlimited Tomorrows (SPROUT) program is a comprehensive support program for young single parents, aged 18 to 23, and their children. Founded more than two decades ago, SPROUT can provide qualifying parents with access to housing, on-site child care and financial aid. SPROUT also has a personal development component featuring academic or personal development classes, counseling and mentoring opportunities.
Online Learning: The university offers a variety of accelerated education options, including hybrid and online learning, through its adult learning program. The school has single courses available online and offers a few fully online degrees, including a Bachelor's of Arts in Organizational Leadership and a hybrid MBA program focused in management. For single parents looking to lighten their commuting load by taking a few courses online, the university's distance learning options could be a fit.
#8 - Misericordia University
- Tuition: $28,210 (2013-2014)
- Location: Dallas, PA
This broad-based liberal arts college was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1924 and served women exclusively for many years thereafter. Though MU has been co-educational since the 70s, it still maintains a number of programs to help women succeed, including the Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children Program. According to MU, this program aims to help single mothers finish their education and "provide a better life" for their families. It offers women financial assistance, housing and partially-subsidized child care near campus. Applicants must have at least one child between the ages of 2 and 8 to qualify.
Online Learning: Single parents with prior college credits or an Associate degree interested in a full Bachelor's can complete that online through Misericordia University. A full range of undergraduate options are available through web-based learning, including degrees in Accounting, Business Administration, Healthcare Management, RN-BSN, and more. Adults who already have a Bachelor's degree can enhance their learning further through several online Master's degree options or consider the school's online Doctor of Nursing Practice.
#9 - Endicott College
- Tuition: $28,926 (2013-2014)
- Location: Beverly, MA
With a mission of helping young parents who previously never had an opportunity to complete a Bachelor's degree, Endicott College's Keys to Degrees: Single Parent Program allows single men and women age 18 and 24 to live on campus with one child. Students generally complete the program within four years and can also live on campus year-round to study and work on their degree. Academic and personal development workshops are offered and mentoring partnerships and internships can be pursued.
Online Learning: Prior life credits may be given to single parents and other adult learners interested in pursuing one of Endicott College's undergraduate online programs. With options available in Business Administration, Liberal Studies and Psychology, students can work on an Associate degree or accelerated Bachelor's degree online. At the more advanced level, online MBAs and an online Master of Education in Integrative Learning are among the options for adult learners.
#10 - Wilson College
- Tuition: $29,370 (2013-2014)
- Location: Chambersburg, PA
Wilson College's Women with Children program is "a contemporary expression" of their mission to educate and develop students. Participating moms can live in family-friendly, on-campus housing throughout the year and put on-site child care to good use. Wilson also offers a number of family-focused enrichment activities, including parenting workshops and alumnae mentorships, in addition to access to a farm, creek, equestrian facility and playground.
Online Learning: Wilson College offers an online Master of Education. The program can be completed in as little as 24 months, allowing adult learners the opportunity to start an entirely new career in a matter of two years.
#11 - Champlain College
- Tuition: $31,350 (2013-2014)
- Location: Burlington, VT
At Champlain College, it's recognized that raising a child as a single parent and heading back to school can be stressful. That's why, in 1987, the school started its Single Parents Program, which includes free counseling, tutoring and career advisement. Financially eligible single parents who are legal Vermont residents may also qualify for the full tuition Single Parents Scholarship, which further enables single parents to meet their professional goals.
Online Learning: In 1993, Champlain College offered it first online courses and in 1996, its first online degree. More than 60 degree and certificate programs are now offered at the undergraduate and graduate level, including Accounting, Business Management, and Healthcare Administration.
Think Outside the Box (or Campus)
All of the schools featured on this list offer programs designed to help single parents find support and work toward completing a degree or obtaining higher education. Not all parents live near family-friendly colleges, however, and picking up and moving is not always an option. This need for flexibility is the reason that many colleges and universities offer a variety of online options.
Whether it's looking for paid internships or finding an online job that provides the flexibility to work from home, out-of-the-box thinking can always be an asset for single parents. As Toliver-Roberts points out, even previous life experience can come into play, allowing students to gain college credit and to save a little bit of tuition money when applicable. "Being aware of the financial commitment and resources needed to earn a degree is essential," she said. "Any student with work experience or prior learning should pursue opportunities to gain credit through transfer credit, test outs, portfolio assessment, et cetera."
- "Adult and Continuing Education," Baldwin Wallace University, http://www.bw.edu/admission/adult/
- "America's Families and Living Arrangements," U.S. Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20-570.pdf
- "Champlain Online," Champlain College, http://www.champlain.edu/online-learning
- "Children in Single Parent Families," National Kids Count, http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/106-children-in-single-parent-families - detailed/1/any/false/868,867,133,38,35/any/429,430
- "College Navigator", National Center for Education Statistics, nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
- "Distance Education," University of Oregon, http://de.uoregon.edu/
- "Distance Learning Programs in Colleges at the University of Michigan," University of Michigan, http://www.crlt.umich.edu/inst/distlearnprograms
- "Graduate Student Admissions, College of Saint Mary, http://www.csm.edu/admissions/requirements/graduate-admissions
- Dr. Jane Owen, Midwestern State University, interviewed by the author via telephone September 2014
- Dr. Rita Toliver-Roberts, Peirce College, interviewed by the author via telephone September 2014
- "Keys to Degrees, Single Parent Program," Endicott College, http://www.endicott.edu/StudentLife/Keys-Degrees-Prog/Single-Parent-Program.aspx
- "Master of Education Online," Wilson College, http://www.wilson.edu/admissions/graduate-programs/online-med-program/index.aspx
- "Mothers Living and Learning," College of Saint Mary, http://www.csm.edu/student-life/single-parent-success/mothers-living-learning
- "Online Courses, Degrees & Certificate Programs," University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire http://www.uwec.edu/online/
- "Online Degrees & Certificate Programs," Texas Woman's University, http://www.twu.edu/TLT/online-degrees.asp
- "Online Learning," Endicott College, http://www.endicott.edu/VanLoan/Online-Learning.asp
- "Online Programs," Misericordia University, http://www.misericordia.edu/misericordia_pg.cfm?page_id=1040&subcat_id=138
- "Online and On Campus," Peirce College, https://www.peirce.edu/online-on-campus
- "Single Parents Program," Champlain College, http://www.champlain.edu/student-life/student-services/single-parents-program