Keeping a tiny human alive is no easy task, and neither is earning a college degree — but plenty of mothers are, impressively, juggling both at the same time. But just how many moms are raising kids while in college? The answer, which may surprise some, matters, since these college mothers are often impacted by a lack of support (financial or otherwise) and insufficient services to support their dual roles as students and parents. And there are more moms raising babies while in college than one might expect.
According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, there are 3.1 million mothers in college, making up the majority of the 4.8 million undergraduate students who are parents. Single mothers account for nearly half of all parents who moonlight as college students, and mothers as a whole make up approximately 17 percent of college students.
Despite the fact that over a quarter of undergraduate students are now parents (I'm including dads in that count) — a percent that has grown in the last couple of decades — services for student parents remain low. According to another study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, only half of four-year public colleges have on-campus child care services, followed by only 45 percent of community colleges. And those numbers are actually lower than they were just a few years ago, showing a decline in childcare services on campus.
On top of that, women who are raising children while hitting the books face another challenge: according to The Atlantic, mothers who are on welfare can lose some of their benefits when they return to school. In the majority of states, classes don't count as work, so moms can lose out on childcare vouchers or cash assistance benefits. Parents who manage to score student loans can also lose their welfare eligibility if the loans are counted as income.
Despite the challenges, student moms are persevering. As Alison, 22, told Romper last year:
I decided to go back to school after realizing that my dream job could be a reality if I went back. I saw that once I get my degree I will be able to better provide for my children. I want them to look back one day and be proud of me for what I did.
Still, the path to a degree as a student mom could be easier. Education is one of the best ways for parents to improve their situations and be able to provide better lives for their children, but being a student and a mother often remains a challenge. In order to make the balancing act easier, student moms on campus need access to childcare, financial aid, and public assistance.