University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Unmarried parents in college: Pathways to success

This issue of Fast Focus is based on an article published by Sara Goldrick-Rab and Kia Sorensen in the fall 2010 issue of The Future of Children (Vol. 20, No. 2; used here with permission), which focuses on “fragile families,” defined as families in which the parents were unmarried when the child was born. The authors examine unmarried parents in college at a time when postsecondary education and training have become increasingly important to workers’ success in the U.S. labor market and therefore to families’ economic security. Noting that access to higher education has dramatically expanded in the past several decades, Goldrick-Rab and Sorensen focus on how unmarried parents fare once they enter college. They argue that, contrary to the expectation that college access consistently promotes family stability and economic security, deficiencies in current policy lead to adverse consequences for some families headed by unmarried parents. And although rates of college attendance have substantially increased among unmarried parents, their college completion rates are low. The authors examine their barriers to success, and the effects of their studies on family life, describing empirically tested supports that have helped more unmarried parenting students attain a degree and thus find better employment at higher wages.


Education & Training, Family & Partnering, Postsecondary Education