Only 1.5% of women who give birth as teens go on to receive bachelor's degrees. Among the general population, that number is 36%.
The problem isn't the mothers. Studies show that the desire to attend college increases significantly among teens who become pregnant, and our firsthand experience bears that out.
But the pathway to higher education is blocked by universities, most of which fail to recognize single young mothers as an educational demographic group. As a consequence, they don't receive the resources they need.
College housing for single mothers is nonexistent, and few universities allow mothers with infants to use priority registration so their classes will match the demanding feeding schedules of their infants. But the biggest problem by far is childcare. Virtually every university childcare center in the country is full and has a waitlist that can take up to two years to clear.
Spaces are never guaranteed, so mothers opt out. And the problem is made worse by the fact that many campus centers are unaware of the existence of state education childcare vouchers that allow mothers to attend classes. As a consequence, they don't promote them and often don't accept the vouchers when parents bring them up.
University childcare centers are usually run by outside contractors who — given the waitlist situation — have little incentive to promote a voucher payment system that would allow teen mothers to attend college. It's simply not the contractor's job to help teen moms go to college; it's the university's.
This is not the outcome we expected when we began our research in 2015. And the tragedy is compounded by the fact that these young women are among the most motivated and capable people in the country to free themselves from a dependence on public assistance.
Teen mothers have the lowest college attainment rate of any demographic group identified in our analysis.
COLLEGE ATTAINMENT RATES
OVERALL U.S. POPULATION
Comprehensive mentorship. Young mothers face challenges that vary significantly from school to school, and solutions are so unique and fragmented that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Instead, every young mother needs her own game plan.
That's why our mentorship program is highly individualized and dependent on a large number of volunteers. We assign a three-member volunteer mentorship team to each teen. Those teams consist of an educated professional woman from one of our partner companies, a graduate school woman who is usually attending one of our MBA partner schools, and an undergraduate woman who is typically a young mother herself navigating the challenges of attending college while raising a child.
We recruit our participants from partner high schools and social service agencies that serve teen moms. And then we develop detailed action plans to help them graduate from high school and enter college.
We do the legwork to ensure that each of our young mothers has the resources she needs, starting with childcare. When campus facilities are full, we find alternatives and navigate the Byzantine state, county and local voucher systems that pays for services.
We solve problems with housing and financial aid, and we form cohorts of young mothers and provide a framework within which they support each other.