Single Mothers are 3 Times More Likely to Enroll in For-Profit Colleges than Single Students without Children

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Contact: Jennifer Clark 202-785-5100

Washington, DC—Three in ten single mothers in college attend private, for-profit schools, a larger share than students of any other family type, according to a new analysis of federal education data by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). In contrast, less than one in ten single men and women in college without children attend for-profit institutions (7.7 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively). The analysis also finds that married parents are less likely than single parents to attend a for-profit school.

Previous IWPR research found that, while the student parent population at all institutions grew by 30 percent between 2004 and 2012, the share of student parents enrolling at for-profit schools grew by a staggering 138 percent during the same time period, the most dramatic increase among all institution types. After community colleges, for-profit schools are now the second-most common type of institution where student parents enroll.

“For-profit schools prey on low-income single parents who end up paying much more for a lower quality credential than they’d receive at a public community or four-year college,” said IWPR Senior Research Associate Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, co-author of the analysis.

Over 70 percent of students at for-profit schools take out federal loans, compared with just 17 percent at community colleges and 48 percent at public 4-year institutions. Student parents, especially single moms, are less likely than non-parents to graduate, and when they do, they carry a heavier debt burden.

Only slightly more than one-quarter of students at for-profit schools complete their program within six years, and those who do graduate may find that their degree does not translate into a job or higher earnings. Regulations such as the gainful employment and borrower defense rules provide important safeguards for college students, especially single student mothers.

Single mothers are making an investment in their education to provide greater economic security for their families. We owe it to them and their children to ensure they receive a return on that investment,” Reichlin Cruse said.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences.

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