Research Update: Unmarried Parents in College

August 20, 2013 | Blog

In 2010, UW-Madison graduate student Kia Sorensen and I published a paper in the Future of Children about college access and success among single parents attending college. We utilized data from the 2008 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) and the latest NPSAS just came out for 2012.

I notice the following trends related to this population. 

  1. The representation of single parents among undergraduates grew again. In the 1980s it was 7% and by 2008 it was 13%– in 2012 it was 15.2%.
  2. That growth was entirely among women, not men.  The fraction of male undergraduates were are single parents remained steady at 8%, while the fraction of female undergraduates who are single parents grew from 17% in 2088 to 20.7% in 2012.
  3. The racial/ethnic differences in single parenting changed slightly, creeping upwards by a point for non-Hispanic white students and down a point for Asian students.

The situation for single parents on college campuses nationwide has not improved much over the last several years.  The Institute for Women’s Policy Research is doing important work in this area and it’s worth reading up on.  We need to be concerned about the supports provided to these parents, given how much is riding on their success.  In this latest data release, I’m  most troubled by the indication that rates of borrowing large amounts of money for college are much higher for single parents than for other students.   College has inter-generational benefits, and institutions need to be equipped to ensure they assist in that transfer.

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