The Institute for Women's Policy Research estimates more than two million undergraduate students in the United States are raising children without a partner. Most of these single parents in school are women, and women of color are even more likely than their white peers to be single mothers while in school. While 40% of women in the United States had college degrees in 2015, 54% of married women and only 31% of single mothers older than 25 had earned the credential. These figures underscore just how difficult it can be for single mothers to finish college programs. Moreover, the single mothers who do graduate usually do so with more debt than their married and nonparent counterparts. However, grants for single moms can help.
"While 40% of women in the United States had college degrees in 2015, 54% of married women and only 31% of single mothers older than 25 had earned the credential."
Several organizations and government programs sponsor grants for single mothers to change these statistics. Many private companies and nonprofit organizations have scholarships for single moms who want to earn a college degree. The federal government also issues grants for single moms. Grants are like scholarships in that students never have to repay what they receive, and most college grants for single mothers come from the Child Care and Development Block Grant. The block grant distributes grant money to all the states, each of which then sets unique requirements for grant applicants.
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To qualify for school grants for single moms, applicants must verify that they are single parents. To do so, they must demonstrate head-of-household status on their most recent federal tax return, with at least one dependent under the age of 18. They must also document their income and financial need by filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), particularly if you they are applying for a government-funded scholarship or grant.
Specific requirements may vary based on the program, but you can use your federal tax-filing status as a general guide for this process: If you are divorced (or not married, but living in a state that recognizes common-law partnerships), a good rule of thumb is to submit the same filing status and income information on both your tax return and grant application.
Private grants for single mothers typically prioritize applicants who demonstrate financial need. Some grants may have additional applicant requirements on top of being a single mother — some may require applicants to be over a certain age, be a returning student, or plan to pursue a degree in an in-demand field. Many of the following scholarships essentially function as need-based college grants for single moms.
Scholarships and Grants for Single Mothers
- Patsy Mink Foundation Education Support
Who Can Apply: The Patsy Mink Foundation supports low-income, single mothers over the age of 17. Applicants must enroll in accredited vocational or degree programs.
Amount: Up to $5,000
- Soroptimist's Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women
Who Can Apply: This foundation seeks to further education and career goals for women who are the primary financial providers in their homes. Many applicants are single mothers, while some are escaping abusive spouses. Students must be accepted to or enrolled in a vocational or undergraduate program.
Amount: Up to $16,000
- Women's Independence Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: Women who have survived abusive relationships within the past one to seven years may apply for this award, which also requires completion of a training or education program.
Amount: Approximately $2,000 per term
- Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC' Annual Single Mother Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Applicants must be single mothers in accredited programs. Candidates must submit a 500-word essay on the advantages of higher education for single mothers.
- TopProducts Single Mother Scholarship
Who Can Apply: TopProducts encourages single mothers who have enrolled in two- or four-year programs to apply.
- Ann and Peter Ziegler Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Female liberal arts majors at Central New Mexico Community College who plan on transferring to four-year universities can apply for this award. The foundation gives preferences to single mothers.
- Westminster College, Several
Who Can Apply: This college in Utah offers many scholarships and grants for single moms.
- Frances M. Dunn Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology offers this award to single mothers who are also nontraditional students with a 2.5 GPA or higher.
Amount: At least $500 per year
- DCCCD Single Mothers Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Single mothers who enroll at any of the Dallas County Community College District institutions can apply for this scholarship.
- Downer-Bennett Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Nontraditional students at the University of New Mexico who are unmarried and have children are welcome to apply.
- Ellen M. Cherry-Delawder Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Howard Community College awards this scholarship to single parents and gives preference to those pursuing business degrees.
- LouEllen Dabbs Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Single parents who are interested in business, finance, or related fields can apply for this award.
General Scholarships and Grants for Single Parents
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Program
Who Can Apply: The federal government awards this grant to students who fill out the FAFSA and demonstrate financial need. Students can use this grant at any of the 3,800 participating schools.
- Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: This foundation requires applicants to meet low-income requirements. Students must also be women who are at least 35 years of age and enrolled in a regionally accredited institution.
- TEACH Grant
Who Can Apply: Students who become teachers in high-need areas after graduation are eligible for this grant. Students who do not meet the post-graduation requirement will be required to pay the money back as a loan. While applicants don't need to be parents, this is one of the most helpful grants for single moms who want to teach.
- Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting
Who Can Apply: This foundation offers several scholarships for women who pursue accounting degrees, most of which are need-based.
Amount: Up to $16,000
- Single Parent Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: Single parents who live in Arkansas or Bowie County, Texas can apply for this scholarship. These students can also send their applications to their local chapters.
Amount: Varies by County
- The Custody X Change Giving Fund
Who Can Apply: Single parents who are full-time students can apply to this nationwide scholarship if they write an essay, send unofficial transcripts, and have a 3.0 minimum GPA.
Amount: Up to $1,000 per semester
- Federal Pell Grant
Who Can Apply: This federal financial aid is available to students who fill out the FAFSA, demonstrate exceptional financial need, and do not have an undergraduate degree already. The Pell Grant is one of the need-based grants for single mothers and others who have financial hardships.
- Executive Women International Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: Through local chapters and the national association, the EWI program awards over $200,000 per year to women who are full-time students and display leadership qualities.
Amount: $2,000 to $10,000
- Philanthropic Educational Organization Program for Continuing Education
Who Can Apply: The PEO offers this one-time award to women who demonstrate need and enroll in programs that will advance their careers.
Amount: Up to $3,000
- Ford Opportunity Program
Who Can Apply: Oregon or Siskiyou County, California students who are single parents, demonstrate financial need, and plan to enroll full-time in their state of residence can qualify for this program.
Amount: Up to 90% of unmet financial need
- Capture the Dream
Who Can Apply: Applicants must be single parents living in the San Francisco Bay Area, who have enrolled at a local two- or four-year institution.
- The Deana Kendrick Foundation
Who Can Apply: Applicants for this foundation must be women over 30 years of age who are returning to school after life interrupted their educational journey.
Amount: $250 to $500
The High Cost of Childcare
When considering the cost of education, single-parent students should take into account the cost of childcare. According to Inside Higher Ed, 3.2 million college students were parents in 1995, and by 2016, that number rose to 4.8 million. The number of parents enrolling in higher education programs is on the rise, but childcare programs at these institutions have significantly decreased. Between 2003 and 2016, the percentage of public universities offering childcare services dropped by 6%, to 49%. In that same time, childcare provision at two-year colleges went from 53% to 44%. Even so, single parents can take heart in knowing that nearly half of higher learning institutions offer on-campus childcare. These students can prioritize applying to schools with this feature.
Off-campus childcare, on the other hand, can be prohibitively expensive. Child Care Aware found that single parents spend an average of 27% of their income on this expense. Even in areas with relatively low childcare costs like Mississippi, single parents may spend up to 17% of their income on childcare for just one infant. In Massachusetts, the cost of center-based infant care costs 99% of the average single parent's income.
"Child Care Aware found that single parents spend an average of 27% of their income on this expense."
Depending on the school and state, childcare could cost even more than college tuition. In fact, a recent study showed that full-time infant care is more costly than full-time public university tuition in 28 states and the District of Columbia. Parents who go to school have to pay for both of these significant expenses, so earning a degree may feel overwhelming. However, scholarships and grants for single mothers can cover both. Furthermore, learners should consider college degrees as investments. While it may be difficult and expensive now, a college degree can pay off for the graduate and family.
The Reward for Investing in Education
Earning a college degree can be costly, but the reward can be well worth the investment. Whether the degree is in the student's current field or something entirely new, it can pay off in dividends over a career. In fact, Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project found that college graduates earn approximately $570,000 more over their careers than peers with only a high school diploma. On average, that spells out a 15% return on their education investment.
Moreover, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that working adults with at least a bachelor's degree have significantly lower unemployment rates than those with a less formal education. Even in financially tumultuous years, college graduates' unemployment rates were about half that of high school graduates.
Learners' children also receive financial benefits and stability from their parents' education. Moreover, having parents with degrees can significantly increase children's chances of success. The Atlantic reports that kids who have at least one parent with a college education are more likely to enroll in college after high school, and more likely to succeed in those programs.
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Additional Ways for Single Parents to Save in College
Single mothers attending college can also apply for grants for women, African-Americans, and online students. Single parents may also be able to take advantage of tuition assistance from their employers. Learners can try online classes, as well, which offer savings on tuition, commuting, childcare, and books. Some students may even qualify for tax breaks.
Employer Tuition Assistance
Many employers assist their employees in paying for college, viewing it as an investment. Time reports that one major company that offered tuition assistance recouped every dollar it spent, plus an additional $1.29 for every dollar it spent on employee tuition. This system worked well for the company because tuition assistance programs lead to better retention rates and significant savings on turnover. Today, 60% of employers offer some way for employees to pay for higher education. Single parents who are struggling to pay for school should check with their employers.
The majority of businesses offer tuition assistance, but tuition assistance programs can work in a variety of ways. Many tuition reimbursement programs require students to pay for their classes up-front, and they receive payment from their employers after they pass. Other businesses may fund their employees' education using scholarships.
Finally, students who work for colleges and universities may receive tuition waivers or reductions from their employers. No matter which type of assistance an employer offers, it can only remain tax-free if the total is less than $5,250 per year. The business may provide more assistance than that, but the learner has to pay taxes on every dollar over the minimum. Many companies may also require that the class go toward a degree-seeking program, and they may even stipulate what GPA the student needs to maintain.
Try Online Learning
Childcare is one of the most significant expenses for students who are single parents face. However, online classes can help ease that burden. Learners who study online in asynchronous courses can watch lectures, take tests, and complete homework whenever their schedules allow. However, students should note that online learning takes dedication and discipline, especially for parents. Online education may come with a learning curve for some degree candidates, but many find that the flexibility makes it worth the effort.
Distance education can often save students money in other surprising ways. For example, many online programs have lower tuition rates than their on-campus counterparts. Furthermore, books are usually in electronic format, making them cheaper than printed versions. Online students don't need to worry about fitting commute times into their schedules or gas money into their budgets.
Take Advantage of Tax Breaks
In addition to online learning, employer assistance, grants, and scholarships for single moms, unmarried parents can use several tax breaks to help make ends meet while they are in college. Starting in 2018, parents can earn a tax credit of $2,000 per child each year. Whereas tax deductions reduce the amount of income that is taxable, tax credits like this are dollar-for-dollar deductions on a person's tax bill. For example, if a single mother of two was set to receive a $500 tax refund, she could use the Child Tax Credit to increase her rebate to $4,500.
To be eligible for the tax credit, the child must live with the parent and be under 17. They must also be a dependent on the tax form, legally the adult's child, and a citizen of the United States. However, some learners whose children meet these qualifications may only receive part of the tax credit. The government uses the adult's income to determine what percentage of the credit the parent can receive.
States may also offer deductions and credits for parents, though this varies widely between jurisdictions. Also, students who pay for child care may qualify for the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. This credit covers a percentage of what the parent pays for daycare, but not all caregivers qualify. The IRS provides an interactive tool to help parents decide if they can receive this credit.
- Single Parents Alliance of America: The SPAOA invites single parents in the United States to join for free and gain access to many third-party resources that can help them and their children.
- American Association of University Women: The AAUW advocates for women of all kinds, including mothers. This organization provides resources, meetings, advocacy, and even scholarships for single mothers.
- Bethel Foundation: This nonprofit aims to changes lives, one single mom at a time. They connect single mothers with housing, mentoring, and rehabilitation as needed.
- Solo Parent Society: This society is an authentic community for single parents. Students can read the book, join support groups, and access resources.
- Single Parent Advocate: This organization supports its single-parent members through relevant blogs, videos, news, and networking. Members can also use the site to access government and nonprofit resources.