Single-parent students still face difficulties

Single parents in college face obstacles in the U.S. and abroad.

Seventeen years ago, with her newborn daughter in tow, Tamsin Hinton-Smith began her undergraduate career at England’s University of Sussex. Today, Smith is a full-time professor there, where she also received her doctorate in sociology. But she fears that the support she received as a single parent in higher education is currently eroding as the U.K. moves toward a U.S.-style funding model.

Her latest study — “Lone Parents’ Experiences as Higher Education Students: Learning to Juggle” — is one of the most comprehensive looks at single mothers in higher education to date, and one that could provide insight into the dilemmas of student moms and dads in the United States. 

“Universities need to do more to acknowledge that students have to balance paid work with their studies,” says Smith. “It’s very clear that the typical student is not a [privileged] young man with no responsibilities.”

The “Lone Parents” study chronicled the lives of 77 college-enrolled single mothers across the U.K. Each woman was interviewed biweekly, and each had an opportunity to provide anonymous responses to questions regarding her struggles and personal victories.

Many familiar stories emerged: lack of time, childcare and resources among them. Interestingly, Smith discovered that prestigious institutions tended to be less single-parent-friendly.

“This is really relevant to the U.S. because, like the U.K., [it stands] apart from the other wealthy countries in the way that lone parenthood has really been problematized and stigmatized as a social problem,” says Smith. “The cultures are similar in that lone parents have been blamed and chastised for their position. The important message in the data, for me, is that lone parents in college tend to be highly motivated people.”


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