Monday, November 24, 2008

Student Moms

Inside Higher Ed has a profile of a program that provides special housing to single mothers who are attending an undergraduate Roman Catholic institution, the College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska. These women are required to find their own childcare, but by putting single mothers in one place, it has fostered a cooperative living environment where the women can watch one another’s children while at class. Furthermore, the living situation addresses some diversity problems that the college seems to have:

This housing option for single mothers began in fall 2000, when it attracted nine mothers and their ten children. Tara Knudson Carl, Saint Mary senior vice president, said the idea of the program arose in administrative conversations as way to serve this traditionally underserved population. She added that the program was started on a trial basis. Participation reached its peak in fall 2007, when 39 women with 46 children lived in Walsh Hall.

This year’s cohort living in the Mothers Living and Learning program is more racially diverse than the overall Saint Mary student population – which is 78 percent white. Fifty-six percent of the mothers are white, 38 percent are black and 6 percent are Hispanic. Additionally, students enrolled in the single mothers’ program have a higher graduation rate than the overall student population. The recent six-year graduation rate for mothers in the program was 53 percent, compared to 51 percent for the entire student body. Citing the relative youth of the program, Carl said she expects this graduation rate to increase significantly.

This program addresses is an age-old problem for women who want to have children. Having children and attaining professional success are often seen as being at odds with one another, mostly because there aren’t mechanisms in place to help women that want both. This program is one way to address the idea that women with children can succeed.

This program is only one of eight nationwide, but it seems to me that more colleges should consider implementing programs like this. College dormitories aren’t designed to house children, and a small building bought up by the university could help foster a cooperative living environment and give opportunities to those that might not otherwise get the chance to succeed. Although these women could live in off-campus housing, they really are on their own. Commute times and a lack of helpful neighbors make the burden of attending classes too much sometimes. More colleges and universities should consider implementing such programs.

Cross posted at Pushback.

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