- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - An Omaha college hopes a $10 million dorm specifically for single mothers will lead to improved graduation and success rates among its students trying to juggle schoolwork with motherhood.

Nora McGill, who lives in Madonna Hall with her 4-year-old daughter, Marie, is hoping the same thing.

McGill, 25, is set to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing next May. The Humphrey, Nebraska, native came to College of St. Mary three years ago because it’s one of few in the country with a dorm for single moms and their children.

“I need to get my degree and provide for both of us, so I can send her to school, too,” she told The Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/1jXjIaA ).

College of St. Mary has offered single mothers on-campus housing since 2000, but a dedicated residence hall was built for the Mothers Living and Learning program in 2012.

The cost for the specialized dorm is the same as living in the college’s other on-campus housing, and the mothers pay the same tuition rates. But their children eat free on their meal plan, and they have a built-in support system of baby-sitters and a network of college staffers who consider the moms’ success to be their jobs.

The success rate of the college’s single mothers, who make up almost 18 percent of enrollment, still lags behind the rest of the college. Between 2008 and 2012, only 1 in 5 single mothers at St. Mary came back for their sophomore year if they were first-time students and commuted to campus. Among the mothers living on campus, nearly half returned. But that’s still below the overall 79 percent of undergrads who returned for their sophomore year last year.

Sheena Parks, director of single parent success, teaches a mandatory success class for on-campus moms which covers everything from parenting style to time management. She brings in experts on child custody and support issues for the women, helps them arrange child care and helps them navigate the bureaucracy of financial aid or state benefits.

“The first few weeks, they can get really overwhelmed,” Parks said. “I just tell them, ‘Get your child to day care and get to class. We’ll deal with the rest.’”

Officials hope continual improvements to the program will help give single mothers the support they need to get a bachelor’s degree, said Tara Knudson-Carl, vice president for student development.

“We want them to walk across that stage and get that diploma,” Knudson-Carl said. “Anything we can do is a benefit to us and them, if they are able to stay here and succeed.”


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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