Single Mothers’ Career Readiness and Success

This blog is based on a literature review written by Dr. Mina Reddy, Independent Consultant. Sandy Goodman and Ellen Hewett of the National College Transition Network contributed to its development

Education and training have the potential for life-changing benefits for single mothers and their children. Single mothers are a growing segment of the postsecondary student population in the United States that has drawn the increased attention of academic and public policy researchers.

Single mother students consistently credit their children as the primary motivation and inspiration for going back to school. They act out of a strong sense of obligation to provide for their children financially and to secure a better life for them. Equally motivating is their passion to be a role model for their children, to show them the value of education, and to teach them not to give up on their goals.

A mother’s education has significant short-term and long-term positive effects on her children. For example, a mother’s college-going is associated with greater community involvement and social capital, a term used to describe the benefits gleaned from social networks and informal channels for communicating important information. As well, children of undergraduate student mothers show increased motivation in school and higher educational aspirations.

In addition to the potential economic benefit of postsecondary education, the social interactions and networking single mothers find in school provides them with job search assistance, access to other services, and emotional support. 

Mother and son doing homework

Experiencing challenges similar in many ways to other nontraditional college students, single mothers face additional stressors and challenges to completing educational programs. Their educational progress is frequently disrupted, whether because of pregnancy, caregiving, or gendered messages designed to undermine aspirations for education or career. Gender-based violence, control, and domination by male partners may negatively affect enrollment and persistence. Similarly, negative messages from family members and others may lead to self-doubt. As sole parents, they experience role conflict and role strain and the pressure to be both an “ideal student” and an “ideal parent”, practically an impossible standard. Although they feel they are making worthwhile sacrifices for the future, many student parents report distress at missing time with their children.

Single mothers also experience more financial difficulties than other students because of their generally lower wages and added family responsibilities and have financial needs beyond what is provided by Pell grants. Clearly, securing reliable and affordable childcare that accommodates the schedule demands of classroom, employment, and study time is a major challenge. Lack of stable housing and reliable transportation can also disrupt single mothers’ educational pathways.  

Despite these pressures, some mothers are successful in their pursuit of postsecondary education, but there is limited information about the effective educational program models and practices that support their success. With an 18-month planning grant from ECMC Foundation, World Education’s National College Transition Network (NCTN) is beginning to remedy this through an investigation of program strategies and models that address the needs of single mothers enrolled in career pathway bridge programs and postsecondary career and technical education.

If you know of a postsecondary career pathway or career and technical education program that includes services designed to support single mothers, contact Sandy Goodman, the project director at

To learn more about the Single Mothers’ Career Readiness and Success Project and to read the project literature review and research sources upon which this article is based, visit the project page on the NCTN website.

Support Adult Learners: Fight Income Inequality

AEFL Week LogoWidespread and growing economic inequality is now a broadly acknowledged fact of life in the U.S.  Adult education has a role to play in opening opportunities for low-income people to gain the education and training needed to access employment opportunities that pay a living wage.

  • Nearly 30% of adults with household incomes at or below the poverty line do not have high school credentials.
  • Individuals with high school credentials earn about $10,000 more annually than those without.

Yet, education alone can’t address income inequality. And while national labor market data indicates the growing number of U.S. jobs that will require some postsecondary education, another high growth sector remains low-paying, low-quality service sector jobs. For example, the restaurant industry includes 7 of the 10 lowest paying jobs in the country. Therefore, higher education isn’t a sufficient antidote to income inequality.

Efforts at closing the growing income gap must include improving the quality of jobs offered in the growing service-sector economy.  Improving job quality would enable lower-skilled workers to earn family sustaining wages while undertaking longer-term efforts to improve their skills to access greater career opportunities.  In addition to wages and benefits, schedule stability is critical to the ability of low-wage workers to participate in education and training to upgrade their skills and advance in a career pathway.

In recognition of Adult Education and Family Literacy Week we urge you to take action to support literacy and living-wages for all.  Here’s how:

Teach about These Issues in Your Program!

  • Support students to learn about these issues and take action on them, whether it be voting on the ballot question or joining with already existing organizations in your community that are working on these issues.

Support Adult Education!

  • Call on your elected representatives to support adult education.
  • Support your local adult education program.

Support Living Wages!

State Ballot Questions
Alabama There is no ballot question this year, but there is a pending dispute between the Birmingham City Council, which voted in 2015 to raise the wage floor, incrementally, to $10.10. In response, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill voiding the local ordinance.

Raise Up Alabama

AZ The AZ Minimum Wage and Paid Time Off Initiative would raise the minimum wage to $10 in 2017 and then incrementally to $12 by 2020. It would also guarantee 40 hours of annual paid sick time to employees of large firms and 24 hours to those of small firms

Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA)

CO Colorado $12 Minimum Wage Amendment would raise the minimum wage from $8.31 to $9.30 per hour and increase 90 cents each year on January 1 until the wage reaches $12 in 2020.

Colorado Families for a Fair Wage


ME Maine Minimum Wage Increase Initiative, Question 4 increases the state’s minimum wage to $9 in 2017, $10 in 2018, $11 in 2019, and $12 in 2020.

Mainers for Fair Wages


MD Fight for 15 is a local campaign in Baltimore with a proposal before the City Council to raise the city’s minimum wage.

Fight for 15 Baltimore

MN 15 Now Minneapolis, is a campaign to raise the minimum wage in the city to $15.00/hour.

Minneapolis  15 Now

NJ In June, the New Jersey Senate approved legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage from $8.38 to $10.10 per hour on Jan. 1, 2017. If vetoed by Governor Christie, there will likely be a ballot initiative in 2017.

15 Now NJ

SC South Carolina Minimum Wage Increase Question may appear as an advisory question, which, if passed, would advise the state legislature to increase the state’s hourly minimum wage to one dollar above the federal minimum wage.

Fight for 15


SD South Dakota Decreased Youth Minimum Wage Referendum, Referred Law 20:“yes” vote supports Senate Bill 177 (SB 177), a law decreasing the minimum wage for workers under age 18 from $8.50 to $7.50


WA Washington Minimum Wage Initiative (ITP), if passed would incrementally raise the state’s minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.50 by 2020 and mandate employers to offer paid sick leave.

Raise Up Washington

For more information about these and other ballot initiatives:

You Can Get There From Here: College and Career Navigators

Concerns about the costs of college, financial burdens and the value of postsecondary education surround the discourse about President Obama’s college completion agenda. Additionally, many students, especially adult learners, first generation college goers and other nontraditional college students, arrive at college without adequate academic and personal preparation and, consequently, low persistence rates. The ambitious college completion agenda, coupled with the high consequences and costs of college attrition, have given rise to an awareness of the need for strategies that support students along a postsecondary pathway.

Navigators recruit students, help them negotiate the college processes, serve as student advocates, and assist them in securing support services.Colorado Success Unlimited

In Toward a New Understanding of Non-Academic Student Support: Four Mechanisms Encouraging Positive Students Outcomes in the Community College (2011), Melinda Mechur Karp of the Community College Research Center reviews student persistence and program evaluation literature and identifies four mechanisms or processes that support academically vulnerable college students, including adult learners. Karp labels these four mechanisms as:

  1. Creating social relationships that provide students with a sense of belonging and identity. Early contact and familiarity with faculty, staff, and student peers has proven to increase engagement and persistence.
  2. Developing college know-how, or college-knowledge, is especially important to first generation college students who have not learned the language and culture of college from family members who have gone before them. This cultural know-how also contributes to a sense of belonging and engagement. Further, lack of familiarity with terminology, policies, and procedures, such as add-drop deadlines, can have serious consequences.
  3. Clarifying aspirations and enhancing commitments ensures that students know why they are in college and have a sense of how it contributes to their longer term goals. Without this clarity, commitment to the challenges of college becomes tenuous and insufficient to overcome the setbacks and challenges of adjusting to college.
  4. Making college life feasible by ensuring that students are aware of and know how to access any funding and services that can assist with their basic daily needs, such as food, housing, transportation, and childcare, as well as additional academic supports such as tutoring.

A Navigator is an education and career specialist who assists, coaches, and empowers students to develop and pursue post-secondary, career pathway goals and employment. Skill-up Washington

A support strategy has emerged that has the potential to reinforce each of these mechanisms to prepare adults for college and career pathways and improve persistence, credential attainment and college completion. It is the role of a College and Career Navigator (Navigator), who serves as a single point of contact to help students translate the complex and unfamiliar terrain of college and ensure that students are aware of and know how to access a comprehensive set of campus and community support services. This role has been established in numerous national and local career pathway initiatives. For example:

  • A key intervention of the Massachusetts Community College and Workforce Development Transformation Agenda is a to place a Navigator at each One Stop Career Center (now called American Job Centers) to recruit and assist career center clients who seek postsecondary education and training. In addition to helping clients apply for college and funding, develop a career plan and select a program of study, the Navigators serve as an important bridge between staff at the Job Center and the college, which promotes greater coordination and reduces duplication of service.
  • Accelerating Opportunity is a national integrated career pathways initiative that names the coordination of comprehensive student support services as a core program design element. Participating colleges are encouraged to appoint a Navigator as a central point of contact who serves as a bridge to campus and community services. While some colleges hire navigators directly, others contract with community based organizations to provide this role, in order to leverage available human services expertise.
  • SkillWorks Partners for a Productive Workforce funds a Navigator who is employed by the Boston Private Industry Council, but based at Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC). The Navigator partners with community based organizations and college faculty and staff, such as admissions, financial aid, and advising to ensure a smooth transition to BHCC for participants from Skillworks-funded community based training programs.

The exact job title, core responsibilities, institutional setting and location, timing and duration of the Navigator intervention, and caseload vary and draw from multiple disciplines such as, career counseling, case management, life coaching, academic advising, social work, and advocacy. At the core are some common elements of the Navigator role: help students clarify, commit, and stay on track with educational goals; coordinate, versus duplicate, a broad array of campus and community supports; use a proactive (aka “intrusive”) and personalized approach; appreciate the strengths and resiliency of adult learners; recognize and help to address the challenges adults encounter juggling multiple responsibilities of work, school, and family, with few available resources; bring institutional barriers encountered by students to the attention of college administrators.

World Education’s US Division has been providing online and face-to-face training for College and Career Navigators around the country since 2012. Our free, self-paced course Finding True North: The Role of the Navigator is available to the public and is a good orientation for new navigators or education and workforce program administrators considering creating a position. It is the pre-requisite for a 5-week facilitated course for navigators, Navigating Pathways to Opportunity and registration for the fall 2014 session is open now.

The National College Transition Network, a project of World Education, offers numerous resources for Navigators to use with students, such as Integrating Career Awareness, Mapping Your Financial Journey, and College for Adults.

A compass is a device used to help someone find their way… South represents what’s behind us…our past. Some of us started this program looking back, focusing on our mistakes, lamenting about the regrets we have for our choices and non-choices. While the demands of East and West, family, friends, and work, are important, they do take away from our ability to be the best, most focused learners we can be. And lastly, there is True North, [the Navigator]. She employed a gentle guidance and wisdom to remove self- judgment and fear… She supported while at the same time encouraged self-reliance.

– Excerpt from a graduation speech given by Vicky Kent, graduate of Transition to College and Careers program at Marshwood Adult Education.