Supporting Single Parent Students at Wilson College

Photo Credit: Dustin O’Donnell

A perfect read for the holiday season: a story about people getting it right. NPR recently profiled the forward-thinking (and heartwarming) Single Parent Scholars program at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa. Created 20 years ago, this program helps cut through some of the biggest challenges facing students who are single parents: housing, childcare and transportation.

At the time, Wilson had just closed a dormitory due to low enrollment. Gwendolyn Jensen, then president of the college, had the vision to convert the dorm to meet the needs of single parents and their children. Now, the building is comprised of two-bedroom apartments, private bathrooms and shared kitchens. The first floor is dedicated to childcare, with a playground just outside.

Students in the Single Parent Scholars program pay full tuition, room and board – supplemented by scholarships and grants in many cases – but their childcare is free. And, with the dorm located right in the center of campus, students who are single parents enjoy the same convenience and access to campus resources as their peers.

An additional benefit of the Single Parent Scholars program is less tangible – but incredibly valuable. Students participating in the program get to experience a built-in community within the larger campus community. They can connect and build relationships with others living a similar experience, something that would be much more difficult if they had to live and work off campus.

Wilson College found a unique way to serve an often underserved group of students. As the number of non-traditional students – including the 4.8 million students raising children – continues to grow, offering expanded options and support for these students will become increasingly important for colleges and universities. Previously, I wrote about the concerning decline in childcare facilities on our nation’s campuses. In the coming years, I hope to see that trend reverse as more schools find creative ways to serve a wider variety of students.

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