Colleges can help single mothers succeed by providing them with basic needs supports, building inclusive environments on campus and giving them flexible educational experiences, according to a new report from the Education Design Lab.

The Education Design Lab, a nonprofit organization focused on education and the workforce, is helping four community colleges launch pilot programs to better support single mothers through college, with the aim of reaching at least 6,000 of these learners by 2024.

The initiative's early findings have important implications for other colleges, especially those with large populations of single mothers. Single mothers are prevalent on campus, making up 16% of all undergraduate women in the 2015-16 academic year, according to a 2019 paper from the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Single mothers tend to have much to gain from a college education. Nearly nine in 10 of them who are also college students have incomes at or near the federal poverty line, the IWPR paper noted. Single mothers can be expected to earn $479,318 over their lifetimes with just a high school diploma. But their lifetime earnings jump by $256,059, to $735,377, if they earn an associate degree, and by $625,134, to $1,104,452, if they earn a bachelor's degree.

Yet this group faces considerable challenges in college. Although having children often spurs them to enroll in school, children can also be what makes it difficult for mothers to graduate because higher ed was not designed with single mothers in mind, the Education Design Lab report contends.

Just 8% of single mothers complete an associate or bachelor's degree within six years of enrolling, compared to roughly half of women who aren't mothers, according to IWPR.

The four schools spearheading the Education Design Lab pilots are Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque; Delgado Community College in New Orleans; Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis; and Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York. They're hoping to increase single mothers' attainment of college degrees and high-quality credentials by 30%.

Read the full article about supporting single mothers in higher ed by Natalie Schwartz at Higher Education Dive.