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Single Student Parents Have Higher Student Debt Burden, Especially at For-Profit Colleges

Student parents at for-profit colleges are taking on 10 times the annual loans of student parents attending community colleges.

New analysis of federal government data by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that postsecondary students who are single parents with dependent children, who make up nearly 12 percent of college students, have less money to contribute to the cost of college, have much greater unmet need after receiving financial aid, and amass higher levels of student debt than other students.
May 30, 2012

Washington DC—New analysis of federal government data by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that postsecondary students who are single parents with dependent children, who make up nearly 12 percent of college students, have less money to contribute to the cost of college, have much greater unmet need after receiving financial aid, and amass higher levels of student debt than other students. The fact sheet is part of IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative.

The majority (62 percent) of single student parents have an expected family contribution (EFC) of $0, with no financial resources to devote to their educational expenses. This is compared to 20 percent of postsecondary students without children and 18 percent of married students.

Single student parents have 20–30 percent more debt than other students one year after graduation. Ten years after graduation, they still owed more than three times as much debt as their classmates. Aid in the form of grants or scholarships, rather than loans, can make college more affordable for low-income student parents while reducing the likelihood that graduates will remain in debt for years after graduation.

“Postsecondary credentials should be a pathway out of poverty, not a source of decades of debt,” said Kevin Miller, Senior Research Associate with IWPR. “With adequate aid and support for nontraditional students, colleges and universities—especially community colleges—can be an affordable and effective way for student parents to obtain skills and credentials that lead to stable, better-paying employment.”

The average annual loans taken out by student parents at for-profit colleges are more than 10 times greater than those taken by student parents at community colleges. Student loans may not cover the costs of child care or other expenses that student parents are incurring over the course of their education.

Student parents, particularly single student parents, also face significant challenges to remaining enrolled and graduating such as limited access to affordable child care, difficulty balancing the demands of school with the demands of work and family, and financial limitations that make it difficult to remain enrolled.

“Improving student parents' access to grants is important not only for the parents themselves, but brings crucial dual-generation benefits, by making it more likely that children will themselves will pursue a college degree,” said Barbara Gault, Vice President and Executive Director of IWPR. “Keeping student loan interest rates low will also be critical to maintaining opportunities for low-income parents to pursue college and economic self-sufficiency.”

The Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies. IWPR is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that also works in affiliation with the women's studies and public policy programs at The George Washington University.

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