Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Poor Single-Mother College Students' Views on the Effect of Some Primary Sociological and Psychological Belief Factors on Their Academic Success

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Poor Single-Mother College Students' Views on the Effect of Some Primary Sociological and Psychological Belief Factors on Their Academic Success

Article excerpt

Families headed by women have emerged as a prevalent form in Western countries and may reflect a new pattern brought about by postindustrial social changes. Among Western countries the highest proportion of these families is found in th United States (25 percent) [16, 29]; however, because subsequent marriages have an even higher breakup rate than initial ones, the current 25 percent prevalenc rate of families headed by women may be an understatement of the proportion of such families in the United States [7, 17]. Many families that are headed by women are also living below national poverty levels [26]; their percentage rose from 34 percent to 43 percent between 1970 and 1984 [15]. Unfortunately, it appears that the economic conditions of these families may worsen because of such factors as reductions in welfare spending and increases in the cost of housing.

Because individuals typically derive greater benefits from a college education than from other forms of postsecondary education [25], one response to the economic needs of families headed by women living in poverty has been the implementation of programs designed to provide opportunities to obtain a colleg education. Although some single mothers living in poverty are taking advantage of these programs [9], there appears to be little or no information on their views of the factors that influence their academic success.

The starting point for this study was work previously conducted on Australian single-mother college students' views of their education experiences. Burns, Scott, Cooney, and Gleeson [8] explored 78 single mothers' perceptions of how their university experience affected their personal adjustment. In contrast to married women (n = 107), who indicated their partners as their main source of support (88 percent), single mothers indicated that a variety of individuals, including children (20 percent), friends (17 percent), parents (15 percent), an ex-partners (11 percent), served as sources of support. As a result of their educational experience, single mothers reported that they were more understanding of people, better communicators and problem-solvers, more toleran and open, more interesting, more interested in others, more enthusiastic, more sympathetic to others, and less defensive. Accompanying these changes, single mothers reported that their children were more respectful, were more likely to ask them for help, became more resourceful, were less sexist, and had expanded their own interests and aspirations. These findings suggest that single mothers academic success, at least in part, may be dependent upon the support of a number of individuals.

Closer to the purpose of the present study, Cheng [9] studied the motivational profiles of 12 single mothers enrolled in a small Northeastern college in the United States. She found that these women often had high achievement strivings along with anxiety over performance and high social-power motives. They also relied heavily on the social encouragement and support of various individuals, including community members, faculty, and peers.

The findings of these two studies suggest that the academic success of single-mother college students is dependent upon the support of a wide variety of individuals and psychological belief factors. These findings parallel those of other researchers who suggest that, in addition to knowledge and skills, women (more than men) evaluate the quality of their academic experience in relation to the degree to which they develop relationships with others [3, 6].

Though Burns et al., and Cheng [8, 9] did not study poor single-mother college students directly, their findings suggest that the academic success of these students most likely depends on a broad array of factors. Thus the central goal of this project was to study poor single-mother college students' views of the effect of some primary sociological factors (that is, support of other students family, faculty, and university services) and psychological belief factors (tha is, personal ambition, effort and discipline, prior knowledge and experience, and self-confidence) on their academic success. …

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