Federal and state programs are available to help single parents trying to escape poverty by earning a college degree. Almost 31 percent of households led by women and more than 16 percent led by men live in poverty, a U.S. Census report has said. A university diploma can change that. Having a bachelor’s degree raises a parent's earning power by 61 percent over one who only has a high school education, the Bureau of Labor says.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) and Pell Grants can help low-income parents pay for college. Pell grants provided as much as $5,645 a year for undergraduate and graduate students at the time of publication, while the FSEOG can supply another $4,000 annually. The Pell grant is awarded to all individuals who qualify. The FSEOG is limited and not all colleges take advantage of this program. Those that do receive a set amount of money each year. Once those funds are gone other needy students are left empty-handed, so it pays to apply early.
Many states offer grants to single parents based on financial need that can close the gap between federal grant awards and the cost of tuition and fees. For instance, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education provides a maximum of $10,450 to students attending a college or university taking part in the state’s higher education programs. Check with your state educational office to find out what programs are available.
Loaning a Hand
There are loans available that a single parent doesn't have to start paying back until after they leave school. A student can borrow up to $5,500 annually through the Federal Perkins Loan program. Some undergrads can borrow $7,500 a year through the Federal Stafford Loan program, though the amount will vary by your status. The interest rate for a Perkins loan is 5 percent and Stafford loans rates are set at 3.86 percent. The maximum amounts you can borrow while an undergraduate is $27,500 for a Perkins loan. The Stafford maximum is $31,000.
Single parents face challenges other students don't. For example, child care can be expensive, preventing them from going to college. Many states have programs to help cover those costs while a parent attends classes. Louisiana, for example, has established programs to help low-income parents pay for child care through the Department of Children and Family Services. Other available benefits include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to provide food for the household and cash-assistance programs to help pay for housing and basic needs. Contact your local social service departments to learn more.
- U.S. Census: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States:2012, page 17
- U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employment Projections
- U.S. Department of Education: Federal Student Aid: Federal Student Grant Programs
- Minnesota Office of Higher Education: State Grants
- State of Louisiana: Department of Children and Family Services: Child Care Assistance Program
- State of Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services: Louisiana CAFE Customer Portal
Griffith Pritchard served as a senior branch manager and banking officer for M&T Bank. He specialized in small business and personal financial, credit and banking products. He also has extensive experience in small business sales and non-profit management. Pritchard is a graduate of Hobart College.