4. Support systems: Student mothers and college officials cite support systems, both at school and at home, as a factor integral to achievement. Through the Single Parent Support System at St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Va., all mothers and children have a mentor they meet with monthly. At Misericordia University, women are required to find a counselor on campus.
"The women who are successful are the ones that do create a support network, the ones who aren't afraid to ask for help or ask questions," says Wilson College's Kough. "The ones who try to do this completely on their own just really struggle the most."
5. Parenting skills courses: Parenting skills courses are of paramount importance in the comprehensive parent programs at schools like Endicott College, where both mothers and fathers enrolled in the program are now required to attend a series of parenting seminars. And at other schools, mothers say the lessons they learn in the classroom pay dividends at home.
For Aimee Kuelling, a 37-year-old enrolled at Judson University, delving into her child development elective was easier as she watched her son, Tanner, live out the material she was learning in class. Margaret Martinez, a 27-year-old mother of two earning a degree at Mount Mary College, claims she has already passed on to her children the lessons she's learned in college, like the importance of community service.
"They see the value in getting an education and they get some of the benefits that I'm learning now," says Martinez, who now involves her children in volunteer activities like donating toys to needier youngsters at Christmas. "I don't know if I would have taught that to my children had I not been taught that myself."
6. Online and blended degree programs: Online education is a common avenue for student parents too busy to complete a full-time degree on a college campus. Some schools, such as the University of Massachusetts—Amherst, even offer blended degree programs as a compromise for students who crave the college experience but can't spend too much time away from kids and jobs.
Through the University Without Walls Program at UMass Amherst, students can opt to come to campus for some courses or can complete their studies fully online, an option that "you can do while the kids are asleep, while you're at the playground with the kids—at any point in time," says Ingrid Bracey, the program's interim director. "It's at your convenience."
Though the University Without Walls Program is not specific to any one type of student, it attracts a large population of working parents, Bracey notes. "You see this range of very strong women with children who...come back because they could no longer stomach it," she says. "They know what it's like to have a family and then to have to go home and say, 'I'm so sorry, but we don't have any money this week.'"
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No matter a mother's route to earning a degree, students surveyed said degree completion symbolizes clearing a significant hurdle on the path toward a better life for their children and themselves. Oftentimes, it also lends a newfound sense of independence that motivates student mothers like Martinez to keep juggling school, work, and family.
"Even with the crazy schedule and even with the sleepless nights, I feel like I'm now in more control of my life than I have ever been before," she says. "If I can survive this, I think I can do anything."
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