Mothers’ School Re-Enrollment: A Mixed Methods Study of Effects and Processes for Both Generations of Mothers’ Return to School
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
In this mixed-methods study, additional and contemporary insights come from in-depth qualitative interviews with mothers who are pursuing additional education. The qualitative work also highlights concrete policy recommendations that might alleviate transition costs and therefore improve longer-term outcomes for families.
Mothers’ school re-entry is a critical issue in the modern structure of American families, the U.S. higher educational system, and the 21st Century economy. At any given time, about 8% of US households have a mother enrolled in school, and about 30% of minor children see their mothers pursue additional education. In addition, a growing number of college students are mothers. In 2012, 34% of female undergraduates were mothers—3.5 million student-mothers. The rate of undergraduate motherhood increased 18% from 1996 to 2012. Growth in the portion of college students who are mothers—even as the age of college students has remained steady—corresponds with racial and ethnic diversification of higher education. At the same time, various policy and program interventions encourage adults to improve their skills to compete in the modern labor market.
Program evaluations of education and skills training interventions for adults often track outcomes only for program enrollees for a relatively short time. Little is known about how short-term effects of adult-serving educational interventions relate to and evolve into wellbeing decades in the future. And researchers rarely acknowledge other members of the program enrollees’ households that are indirectly affected by the intervention.
Therefore, this research may have implications for policy and practice on at least two fronts. First, the findings can inform policies that make it easier for adult women to continue their education and improve family outcomes. This is particularly important for women of color, who are more likely to experience education disruptions and return to school later in life, and who represent an ever-growing share of higher education students. Second, the research may provide insights to help researchers quantify the likely limitations of evaluations that are focused on one generation for a short follow-up period. This would most directly assist researchers carrying out cost-benefit analyses by quantifying long-term and cross-generational spillover effects.
This study is multidisciplinary, with theoretical contributions from economics, sociology, and human development/education literatures. It strongly relates to the thread of two-generation research that has emerged in policy and program evaluation circles in the past decade.