New Coaching Program Supports New Mothers in College

Chapin Hall evaluating project that provides economic and concrete supports

Chicago-based nonprofit New Moms has launched an Academic Coaching program to challenge systemic barriers preventing many student mothers from completing college degrees.

One in five college students in the United States are parents, and often schools are not providing the kind of support they need to ensure success. Currently, only 8% of single mother students in Illinois complete an associate degree within six years, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Additionally, one in three black women in college—who are already underrepresented in higher education because of systemic racism and historic barriers—are single parents. New Moms’ Academic Coaching program was created to address this disparity.

Together with the City Colleges of Chicago, New Moms is piloting a 3-year program to increase degree attainment for young moms in Chicagoland. The results of this pilot will directly inform the fields of postsecondary persistence and workforce development. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago will conduct a formative evaluation of the pilot, which will include the collection and analysis of qualitative data.

This evaluation will have significant implications for the fields of postsecondary persistence and workforce development. Researchers will analyze the data and present their findings in an interim report and a final report, which will be made publicly available.

“By gathering data from program participants, we hope to learn whether this strategy of bundling academic coaching with a cash transfer can help young parents succeed in community college,” said Researcher Elissa Gitlow, the principal investigator for this evaluation.  Dr. Amy Dworsky is the senior advisor on the project.

“The City Colleges are dedicated to proactively eliminating barriers and addressing inequities that impact access to higher education for underserved communities,” said Juan Salgado, Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago. “The new Academic Coaching Program is an example of our shared investment in supporting young parents as they pursue their education.”

Postsecondary completion also has an outsized return on investment (ROI). Single mothers in Illinois holding an Associate or Bachelor’s degree are 45% and 67% less likely, respectively, to live in poverty than high school graduates.

ECMC, the foundation that is funding a significant portion of the pilot program, is intentionally investing in the postsecondary persistence and achievement of young moms. ECMC anticipates that this will have lasting positive influences on families and communities and will lead to more mothers of color graduating from college and working in family-sustaining, living-wage jobs.

The pilot will recruit 25 Chicagoland young moms pursuing an academic certificate or Associate’s degree. During the program, each participant will receive monthly support including a $500 monthly stipend, individual and group coaching, as well as transportation and childcare support. Young moms may remain enrolled in the program for up to three years or until they complete their degree, with additional follow-up support offered post-graduation.

“Research shows that holistic support, including financial support, is one of the most effective ways to improve outcomes for low-income students,” said Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal, Senior Director of Employment and Academic Coaching at New Moms. “Student-parents facing scarcity and poverty achieve their goals more frequently when their environments are less stressful, when they have the support of positive relationships, and when they have developed core life skills.”

These brain and behavioral science-based principles—reducing sources of stress, building responsive relationships, and strengthening core life skills—provide the basis for the Academic Coaching program.