Contextualizing the Support Systems of Single Mothers in College: Facilitating Critical Feminist Analysis Using Mixed Methods




Threlfall, Perry A.

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In theory and policy, access to higher education is increasingly framed as a panacea for poverty. Policymakers roundly argue that facilitating access to a college degree performs the double-duty of attending to ideologies surrounding mobility and freedom while also maintaining the cultural doctrine of individualism and personal responsibility. However, these ideologies present conflicts for single mothers, who continue to experience marginalization through the political and cultural scripts of family values, coupled with overwhelming constraints on time, energy, and social resources. Single mothers enroll in college at similar rates as their non-parenting counterparts, but they fail to complete their programs at a rate nearly double that of the general college population. Researchers have demonstrated that deep support structures are required to confront the restrictions for persistence that single mother students' face, yet none have contextualized those recommendations intersectionally. I respond to the need to fill in the gaps in the existing literature by triangulating the talk of single mother students with survey responses collected across the United States. The results indicate that single mothers enrolled in community colleges perceive greater difficulty recognizing the support necessary to acquire the requisite cultural competencies for persistence than those at four-year colleges and universities, and single mothers students who are able to persist do so with the strategic utilization of social connections. I view this through the framework of Bourdieu and argue he provides a sound conceptual apparatus through which we can better understand how to assist single mothers in reaching their goals. Policy makers and practitioners are advised to develop ways to better address limited access to social capital at community college campuses in order to accommodate the specific requirements of single mother students.


This work was embargoed by the author and will not be publicly available until May 2020.


College persistence, Education and mobility, Female householders, Single mothers, Single mother students, Social capital