A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Analysis: Investing in education for Kentucky’s single mother students will strengthen state’s economy

Kentucky’s economy is changing. This year, an estimated 60 percent of jobs will require post-secondary education. Accordingly, Kentucky has set an ambitious goal to graduate 60 percent of Kentuckians with a college credential by 2030.

To meet this goal, Kentucky must recruit and graduate “non-traditional” students, who are often part-time students, working adults and/or parents and encompass half of the undergraduate student population.

Single mothers, whose labor force participation is surging, are eager to prepare for in-demand jobs: 23 percent of all Kentucky undergraduates are parents and nearly half of these parents (roughly 23,000 students) are single mothers. Unfortunately, many single mother students do not graduate nationally. Only 8 percent earn a degree within six years, compared to half of women without children.

However, with the addition of affordable housing, childcare, and comprehensive wrap-around services for the family, 98 percent of Family Scholar House (FSH) participants pursuing a bachelor’s degree complete it in less than six years.

Single mothers in college must balance school, family, and often work, with little or no support. Full-time single mother students spend an average of nine hours each day on childcare and housework alone, according to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Additionally, 90 percent live in or near poverty.

Affordable housing, reasonable childcare and assistance meeting basic needs could make a big difference. However, despite their best efforts, the support provided by most colleges is not enough to meet their needs. In Kentucky, for example, just 38 percent of public colleges (and 25 percent of community colleges, where single mothers are most likely to enroll) have childcare centers.

With these challenges in mind, Family Scholar House has worked to promote Kentucky’s single mothers’ college and career success for 25 years. FSH provides a comprehensive support system to single-parent students, designed to end the cycle of poverty, promote workforce participation and prosperity.

Research shows that their children also reap important benefits, such as improved behavioral, academic outcomes, and an increased likelihood of going to college themselves. Further, the efforts of Family Scholar House do more than just improve family outcomes—they are also helping strengthen Kentucky’s economy.

When single mothers earn degrees, they see significant additional lifetime earnings over what they would have earned without a college education. In addition to improving their families’ economic security, single mothers’ earnings translate into impressive economic benefits for Kentucky.

These benefits include increased tax revenue and significant savings in spending on public benefits, like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, which single mothers are less likely to need with post-secondary degrees.

The cohort of single mother college students enrolled in Kentucky during 2015-16 who are expected to graduate will pay $173 million more in taxes than they would have paid with only high school diplomas. This same cohort will also generate savings of $56 million in public assistance receipt.

If Kentucky invests in the services that evidence suggests increase single mothers’ graduation rates, the state would get its money back nearly four times over as a result of the economic contributions these mothers make post-graduation.

Kentucky’s economy needs a workforce that is prepared to fill in-demand jobs that increasingly require more education than a high school diploma. Investing in single mothers’ college success helps meet this demand and provides a return on investment, pumping money back into the state economy through higher earnings, increased tax contributions, a reduction in public benefits use, and brighter futures for their children. It’s a win-win-win solution.

Learn more at familyscholarhouse.org and review the national and state-level reports on single mothers’ college success at iwpr.org.

From Family Scholar House

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