Young mother and daughter reading textbook while doing homework

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.

Published by

Sandy Goodman

Sandy Goodman

Sandy is the Director of Career Pathways at the National College Transition Network. Her work includes designing and leading college transition and career pathways initiatives. She provides technical assistance and professional development to individual programs and state adult education systems on national, state, and local initiatives. Recent projects include: designing professional development for Accelerating Opportunity; directing the SABES Center for Education and Career Planning in Massachusetts; developing and delivering online and face-­to­-face training for college and career navigators; and strengthening of Prior Learning Assessment policies and their broader implementation as a postsecondary acceleration strategy for adult learners.