The Winding Path Back to School: Hidden Obstacles to Higher Education for Low-Income Single Mothers
HEAd'15. Conference on Higher Education Advances
This paper explores obstacles to the pursuit of higher education for low-income single mothers in the United States. Findings are based on a three-year qualitative study, including 66 in-depth interviews with 37 low-income single parents who were pursuing educational goals through an anti-poverty program in Boston, Massachusetts. Respondents were questioned about their past and current experiences, goals, motivation, and fears related to post-secondary education. All mothers interviewed
... interviewed believed that getting a college degree would help them to secure employment and move their families out of poverty. Findings revealed institutional and practical obstacles to their pursuit of higher education, including conflicting advice from "experts" and difficulty retaining public benefits while attending school. The primary obstacles that emerged were categorized as follows: (a) winding paths and dead ends, (b) difficult transitions, (c) short-sighted decisions, and (d) inflexible institutions. Also evident among interviewees were misconceptions about the policies and practices of institutions of higher education, such as not predicting the difficulty of transferring credits between schools and lack of understanding about differences between degree programs. These obstacles have yet to be explored in literature about higher education for low-income parents. Policy and practical implications for higher education as a route out of poverty are discussed.