Jennifer Lewis said she could have graduated two years ago from Malcolm X College in Chicago but took time off after having her son.
Now the single mother said she would not finish her nursing studies at Malcolm X College until 2016.
“My son is the greatest thing that ever happened to me and I do not regret having him for one second,” she said. “But in looking back I should have waited to have my child until I finished school.”
Lewis was among the 4.8 million college students with dependent children in 2012, according to a recent report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The report was released recently in conjunction with “Lumina Ideas Summit: New Models of Student Financial Support.
The report, “College Affordability for Low-Income Adults: Improving Returns on Investments for Families and Society,” also found that black, female college students are more likely than other college students to have dependent children (nearly half at 47 percent) of black female students, 39.4 percent of Native-American female students, and 31.6 percent of Latina students are mothers.
Additionally women—who are 71 percent of all student parents—are disproportionately likely to be balancing college and parenthood, many without the support of a spouse or partner. And being a student parent is associated with higher levels of unmet financial need, low levels of college completion, and higher levels of debt upon graduation.
But for any of this to change Barbara Gault, vice president and executive director comments of the IWPR, said there must be more support services put in place for female college students.
“To make college more affordable, increase completion rates, and improve the outcomes of college for low-income adults, we must consider new approaches, like expanding child care supports for those raising children, and addressing sex and race segregation in college majors,” explained Gault.
Whatever changes are ultimately made Sharmaine Wells, 30, said it comes a little too late to help her. In 2012 she dropped out of college after having her third child.
“I have three kids and no husband and I have no one to blame but myself,” said Wells, who was studying marketing at Roosevelt University in Chicago. “After my first child I was able to stay in school. After my second child was born I took a year off to regroup, but got back in school. But when I had my third child last year it became too much to raise three kids alone and go to school.”
Money is another factor pushing single, black mothers like Wells out of school, according to the report.
Women and many black communities face lower earnings than men, and than white and Asian graduates, according to the report. And the report suggested that segregation in college studies could play a role in differential earnings after graduation.
*Black workers must have a bachelor’s degree for their median earnings to equal those of a white worker with an associate’s degree, and a master’s degree to equal those of white and Asian bachelor’s degree holders.
*Women with bachelor's degrees earn only 73 percent of what comparable men earn, and black and Hispanic workers overall with bachelors' degrees earn only 80 percent of what comparable white workers earn.
*Women are much less likely to major in STEM fields: Engineering technologies and computer IT sciences are among the five most common associates’ degree majors for men but not for women.