The National Center for Education Statistics reports that single mother college students are nearly three times as likely to drop out of college during their first year of study compared to single females without children. Qualitative studies on single mothers indicate that financial problems and demands of parenthood are reasons that precipitate voluntary withdrawal from college. These studies also indicate that being able to academically and socially integrate into the collegiate atmosphere increases the chance of completing a degree. Considering the various obstacles facing single mothers, it becomes important to examine why some single mothers graduate from college while others leave without degrees. Therefore, the focus of this study was to examine how potential factors impacted degree completion for single mothers. To understand the magnitude of how potential factors impacted degree completion, comparisons with married mothers were performed. Although vast amounts of higher education research have been conducted on degree completion, little attention has been given exclusively to student-mothers attending college, particularly those who are single.
This study utilized data provided in the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:96/01 – restricted level) employing logistic regression to investigate the influence of the integration process (academic integration and social integration), degree type (certificate, associate, and bachelor), and pertinent external factors (age of child, financial difficulties, and family difficulties) on degree completion for single and married mothers as separate groups.
Findings revealed that the proposed model of degree completion operated similarly for single and married mothers. This study validated concepts from Tinto’s (1993) model of institutional departure for single and married mothers. With the exception of having a child under the age of five, degree type, the integration process, and external factors predicted degree completion as hypothesized.
Results from this study filled the gap in knowledge by becoming the first to examine factors that impacted degree completion on nationally representative samples of student-mother undergraduates. Results from this study could inform educational administrators, advocates for single mothers, and educational policy makers about the on-campus and off-campus experiences of single mothers so that better educational and advocacy decisions can be enacted. This was significant, not only for single mothers but also, for the 73% of nontraditional students attending postsecondary institutions in America.