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The effects of degree type, the integration process, and external factors on degree completion for mothers in college: A comparison study of single mother and married mother college students

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Alicia Nicole McLaughlin
Abstract:
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that single mother college students are nearly three times as likely to drop out of college during their first year of study compared to single females without children. Qualitative studies on single mothers indicate that financial problems and demands of parenthood are reasons that precipitate voluntary withdrawal from college. These studies also indicate that being able to academically and socially integrate into the collegiate atmosphere increases the chance of completing a degree. Considering the various obstacles facing single mothers, it becomes important to examine why some single mothers graduate from college while others leave without degrees. Therefore, the focus of this study was to examine how potential factors impacted degree completion for single mothers. To understand the magnitude of how potential factors impacted degree completion, comparisons with married mothers were performed. Although vast amounts of higher education research have been conducted on degree completion, little attention has been given exclusively to student-mothers attending college, particularly those who are single. This study utilized data provided in the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:96/01 - restricted level) employing logistic regression to investigate the influence of the integration process (academic integration and social integration), degree type (certificate, associate, and bachelor), and pertinent external factors (age of child, financial difficulties, and family difficulties) on degree completion for single and married mothers as separate groups. Findings revealed that the proposed model of degree completion operated similarly for single and married mothers. This study validated concepts from Tinto's (1993) model of institutional departure for single and married mothers. With the exception of having a child under the age of five, degree type, the integration process, and external factors predicted degree completion as hypothesized. Results from this study contributed to the knowledge base by being the first to examine factors that affected degree completion on nationally representative samples of student-mother undergraduates. Results from this study could inform educational administrators and educational policy makers about the on-campus and off-campus experiences of single mothers so that better educational and advocacy decisions can be enacted. Implications from the information founded in this study could not only benefit single mothers but also, for the 73% of nontraditional students attending postsecondary institutions in America.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ABSTRACT ............................................................................................................................... x CHAPTER 1: PROBLEM STATEMENT ................................................................................... 1 Benefits of Degree Completion ............................................................................................... 3 Economic Benefits .............................................................................................................. 3 Interpersonal Benefits ......................................................................................................... 4 Familial Benefits.................................................................................................................. 5 Tinto’s model (1993) Longitudinal Model of Institutional Departure ..................................... 6 Validation of Tinto’s model (1993) ................................................................................... 8 Purpose of the Study .............................................................................................................. 9 Specific Aims .......................................................................................................................... 9 CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW .....................................................................................10 External Factors and Degree Completion ..............................................................................10 Age of Youngest Child .......................................................................................................10 The Differential Effect of Marital Status...........................................................................11 Financial Hardship .............................................................................................................12 The Differential Effect of Marital Status...........................................................................13 Family Difficulty ..................................................................................................................13 The Differential Effect of Marital Status...........................................................................14 Degree Type and Degree Completion ...................................................................................14 The Differential Effect of Marital Status...........................................................................15 The Integration Process and Degree Completion ..................................................................16 Academic Integration .........................................................................................................16 The Differential Effect of Marital Status...........................................................................17 Social Integration ...............................................................................................................17 The Differential Effect of Marital Status...........................................................................18 Review of the Literature .........................................................................................................19 Proposed Conceptual Model of Degree Completion ..............................................................21 Research Questions and Hypotheses ...................................................................................23 Significance of the Study .......................................................................................................25 CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY ..............................................................................................26 Data Source ..........................................................................................................................26 BPS Data Collection ..........................................................................................................26 Telephone and Field Interviewing ...................................................................................27 BPS Survey Instrument ......................................................................................................27

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Population and Sample .........................................................................................................28 Dependent Variable ...............................................................................................................30 Independent Variables ...........................................................................................................31 The Integration Process .....................................................................................................31 Degree Type ......................................................................................................................32 External Factors .................................................................................................................32 Estimated Sample Size and Power Analysis..........................................................................35 Data Analysis Plan ................................................................................................................36 Preliminary Analyses .........................................................................................................37 Missing Subjects ............................................................................................................37 Missing Values ...............................................................................................................38 Multicollinearity Diagnostics ............................................................................................38 Primary Analyses ...............................................................................................................38 Descriptive Statistics and Bivariates ...............................................................................38 Logistic Regression Analysis ..........................................................................................38 Summary ...............................................................................................................................40 CHAPTER 4: RESULTS ..........................................................................................................41 Preliminary Analyses .............................................................................................................41 Missing Subjects ................................................................................................................41 Missing Values on Independent Variables..........................................................................44 Changes in Marital Status ..................................................................................................47 Multicollinearity Diagnostics ...............................................................................................48 Primary Analyses ..................................................................................................................52 Descriptive Comparisons ...................................................................................................52 Bivariate Comparisons .......................................................................................................56 Logistic Regression Analysis..............................................................................................57 Individual Effects for Single and Married Mothers ...........................................................58 Odds Ratios for Single and Married Mothers ..................................................................59 Summary of Logistic Regression Analysis ......................................................................62 CHAPTER 5: DISCUSSION ....................................................................................................63 Limitations .............................................................................................................................63 Degree Type and Degree Completion ...................................................................................64 The Integration Process and Degree Completion ..................................................................65 External Factors and Degree Completion ..............................................................................66 Differences in Marital Status ..................................................................................................67 Implications for Educational Policy ........................................................................................68

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Implications for Social Work ..................................................................................................69 Conclusion ............................................................................................................................69 Recommendations for Future Research ................................................................................70 Summary ...............................................................................................................................71 APPENDIX ...............................................................................................................................63 REFERENCES .........................................................................................................................75 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .......................................................................................................85

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LIST OF TABLES

Table 1: Variables in the Model .............................................................................................. 33

Table 2: Comparative Distribution of Missing (n=242) and Valid Cases (n = 413) of Single Mother College Students (n=655) .......................................................................................... 43

Table 3: Comparative Distribution of Missing (n=190) and Non Missing Values (n=223) of Single Mother College Students ............................................................................................ 45

Table 4: Comparative Distribution of Missing (n=221) and Non Missing Values (n=573) of Married Mother College Students .......................................................................................... 46

Table 5: Sensitivity Analyses by Marital Status .................................................................... 48

Table 6: Correlation Table for Single Mothers (n=125,534) .................................................. 50

Table 7: Correlation Table for Married Mothers (n=290,808) ................................................ 51

Table 8: VIF Statistics by Marital Status ................................................................................ 52

Table 9: Descriptive Summary of Demographic Characteristics of Study Variables ......... 54

Table 10: Bivariate Tests by Degree Completion .................................................................. 57

Table 11: Summary of Overall Strength of Relationships on Degree Completion by Marital Status ....................................................................................................................................... 58

Table 12: Summary of Logistic Regression Results of Each of the Independent Variables on Degree Completion by Marital Status ............................................................................... 61

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LIST OF FIGURES

Figure 1: Tinto’s model (1993) Longitudinal Model of Institutional Departure .................... 7

Figure 2: Proposed Conceputal Model of the Relationship Among the Integration Process, Degree Type, and External Factors on Degree Completion ................................. 23

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ABSTRACT The National Center for Education Statistics reports that single mother college students are nearly three times as likely to drop out of college during their first year of study compared to single females without children. Qualitative studies on single mothers indicate that financial problems and demands of parenthood are reasons that precipitate voluntary withdrawal from college. These studies also indicate that being able to academically and socially integrate into the collegiate atmosphere increases the chance of completing a degree. Considering the various obstacles facing single mothers, it becomes important to examine why some single mothers graduate from college while others leave without degrees. Therefore, the focus of this study was to examine how potential factors impacted degree completion for single mothers. To understand the magnitude of how potential factors impacted degree completion, comparisons with married mothers were performed. Although vast amounts of higher education research have been conducted on degree completion, little attention has been given exclusively to student-mothers attending college, particularly those who are single. This study utilized data provided in the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:96/01 – restricted level) employing logistic regression to investigate the influence of the integration process (academic integration and social integration), degree type (certificate, associate, and bachelor), and pertinent external factors (age of child, financial difficulties, and family difficulties) on degree completion for single and married mothers as separate groups. Findings revealed that the proposed model of degree completion operated similarly for single and married mothers. This study validated concepts from Tinto’s (1993) model of institutional departure for single and married mothers. With the exception of having a child under the age of five, degree type, the integration process, and external factors predicted degree completion as hypothesized. Results from this study contributed to the knowledge base by being the first to examine factors that affected degree completion on nationally representative samples of student-mother undergraduates. Results from this study could inform educational administrators and educational policy makers about the on-campus and off-campus experiences of single mothers so that better educational and advocacy decisions can be enacted. Implications from the information founded in this study could not only benefit single mothers but also, for the 73% of nontraditional students attending postsecondary institutions in America.

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CHAPTER 1: PROBLEM STATEMENT The number of college students in postsecondary education has more than doubled in the last 40 years. Approximately 15 million undergraduate students attended institutions of higher education in America compared to 7 million in the 1960s (Choy, 2002). The increase in college enrollment over the last several decades may be partially attributed to a rise in nontraditional students, who are defined as over 22 years of age, parenting, or employed off- campus for at least 35 hours a week. According to a comprehensive report on nontraditional college students, by 2001, 73% of all undergraduates had one or more of the characteristics of a nontraditional student (Choy, 2002). Furthermore, they were less likely to complete college than traditional students. The report also noted that nontraditional students were more likely to attend public 2-year institutions than 4-year institutions. In comparison to traditional students, typical nontraditional students were more likely to be older, parenting, and working. The report concluded that, because of these characteristics, nontraditional students generally have to devote their time toward family and work in addition to completing their degree. Student-mothers, a subgroup of nontraditional students in postsecondary education, attended college in greater numbers despite having to balance family, work, and school responsibilities (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES] via its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data system). During the 1995-1996 academic school year, student- mothers represented 14% of all undergraduates enrolled in postsecondary institutions. Specifically, 5% of the student body population was single mothers, a number that rose to 7% in 1999 and 9% in 2001 (Horn, Peter, Rooney, & Mallzio, 2002). Further, single mothers were about three times more likely to discontinue their enrollment within their first year of study than single women without children. After six years, roughly half of the single mothers in college graduated with their intended degrees, while 80% of single female students completed their intended degrees (NCES). In comparison, married mothers represented a slightly higher percentage than single mothers did in 1995 at 8% of the student body population (Choy, 2002). Together, students with nontraditional characteristics similar to student-mothers (i.e. parenting, working, and over 22 years of age) represented 33% of all students who dropped out of 2-year colleges in 1994 and 20% of all students who dropped out of 4-year colleges of the same year. Along with the increase in attendance for student-mothers, experts believe that marital status demarcates those at high-risk for dropping out of college from those considered low-risk for dropping out of college. According to Choy (2002), unmarried student-mothers have at least three nontraditional characteristics, placing them in the highly nontraditional category. Since nontraditional traits interact in such a way as to compound their effects in which the more

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nontraditional traits that student-mothers exhibit, the more at risk they are for dropping out of college. Here, single mothers are at risk for leaving college without a degree because they are generally low-income, dependent on financial aid, parenting, and working (Horn, 1999). Married mothers, on the other hand, would not be at as high a risk, because they share characteristics with more traditional, single females without children. First, 70% of married mothers and single females are Caucasian (NCES). Second, about 5% of married mothers and 3% of single females in college receive welfare assistance. Based on race and income, married mothers are similar to traditional females without children. However, single mothers in college are dissimilar to married mothers in the same respect. Fifty percent of single mothers are ethnic minority and 32% receive welfare assistance (NCES). Single mothers, instead, are considered high-risk based on their unique struggles with poverty and other constraints related to nontraditional characteristics, making it difficult to complete college. National data show a clear correlation among poverty, single-parenting, and lack of education. In 2006, 81% of college educated single females lived above the poverty line, while 21% of single females with no college education lived above the poverty line (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). This was significant because 90% of the single females represented had at least one related child in the home. Therefore, earning a college degree can be a viable avenue for single mothers to attain economic mobility and build a stable environment for the entire family. Yet, single mothers often leave college without earning their degrees and thereby potentially contribute to the growing number of female-headed households living below the poverty line. Approximately, 2.6 million unmarried mothers and their children live in poverty; a number that has steadily increased over the last 20 years (Proctor & Dalaker, 2003). From the 1970s through the beginning of the 1990s, the poverty rate for single mothers increased by over 150%, meaning that nearly two-thirds of adults living in poverty were mothers (Karger & Stoesz, 1994). In sum, single mothers are at high-risk for dropping out of college; and the economic consequences for not having a college degree are significant. For married mothers, having supportive spouses while attending college presumably increases the chances of completion (Elman & O’Rand, 1998; Huston-Hoburg & Strange, 1986). Therefore, this study compared the two groups of mothers to determine the significance of being a single mother in college versus being a married mother in college. For further exploration, this chapter describes the economic, interpersonal, and familial benefits of obtaining a college degree for single mothers. This chapter also describes the theoretical implications of Tinto’s (1993) model of degree completion and argues for the use of Tinto’s concepts to examine this issue.

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Benefits of Degree Completion The primary goal of this study was to examine correlates of degree completion for single mothers as compared to married mothers. This goal was important because of the economic, interpersonal, and familial benefits of degree completion, not only for all students who graduated from college, but particularly for single mothers who were responsible for supporting entire households. Hence, to understand the magnitude of these implications, the benefits of degree completion for all college-educated students are highlighted below, with additional focus on how these benefits apply to single mother college students. Economic Benefits Studies highlighting the overall financial value of degree completion illustrated a growing wage gap between college and high school graduates. For example, in 1975, full time working college graduates with bachelor’s degrees earned roughly one and a half times that earned by full time workers with high school diplomas (U.S. Census Bureau, 1997). By 1999, this difference increased to over twice as much, with those completing bachelor degrees earning about $1,000,000 more throughout their employment careers than those with high school diplomas (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). Even children from low socioeconomic backgrounds with college degrees earned much higher salaries than their own parents (Eckholm, 2008). In addition, the gender gap in wages decreased for men and women with college degrees and increased for men and women with high school degrees (Perna, 2005). In overall comparisons from 2001, those with college degrees earned an average salary of $45,000 a year, while those with high school diplomas earned an average salary of $24,000 a year (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). Those who completed one year of college earned an average salary of $27,000. Along with their much higher salaries, college graduates also obtained better employment benefits, with over 92% receiving health insurance (Perna, 2005). Similar to the general population, single mothers with college degrees economically outperform those without college degrees. College educated single mothers earn an average of $5,496 more in yearly income (Sayer, Cohen & Casper, 2004) and are 23% more likely to own a home than those with high school diplomas (Zhan, 2004). Single mothers who exit TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families) tend to have more years of education than those who remain and those with more education are less likely to return to TANF (Lower-Basch, 2000). Ninety percent of single mothers with college degrees who leave TANF maintain employment, compared to 71% with high school diplomas (Acker, Morgren, Heath, Barry, Gonzales & Weight, 2001). For single mothers who do not continue their educations beyond high school, 25% live

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below the poverty line. For ethnic minorities, this rate doubles to 50% (Hoffman, Foster & Furstenberg, 1993). Clearly, the economic benefits single mothers derive from earning degrees serve to lower the incidence of poverty and build financial capital and equity for the entire household. Interpersonal Benefits Beyond the economic advantages, completing college yields an uninhibited ability to develop new relationships and interpersonal transformations. For example, as they are indoctrinated into new cultural systems, college graduates adapt by developing close relationships with others in a system of sharing information that assists in the advancement of knowledge (Eisenhart, 1990). Those who form new interpersonal connections that create political alliances and access to community resources, appear better prepared for future employment (Lin, 2001). Conversely, those who do not form collaborative relationships tend to be emotionally withdrawn from the social environment and thus more likely to drop out of college (Eisenhart, 1990). In addition, graduates are more likely to participate in political elections, spend time with community service activities, and commit fewer crimes (Tinto, 2004). Attending college, therefore, transforms students by stimulating changes in attitudes, values, and beliefs in ways that appeal to potential employers who search for employees with a sense of initiative, self-reliance, and respect of authority (Pandy, Neely-Barnes, & Nenon, 2000). With more direction and purpose, college-educated single mothers experience interpersonal transformations by developing abilities to maneuver through complex systems to achieve their goals. This skill is transferable to other future endeavors, such as gaining economic and social capital. In the process of completing college, single mothers also experience interpersonal transformations by developing a newfound sense of empowerment. As a consequence of achieving what is often referred to as educational empowerment, single mothers redefine themselves by prioritizing their own personal goals (Merrill, 1999a). A series of ethnographic interviews of low-income single mothers found that even the mere decision to attend college represented a time when they exerted power and control over their own career, finances, family, and interpersonal growth (Merrill, 1999a; 1999b). Many women successfully used the knowledge of how the university structure influenced their environments to challenge systematic barriers. Feeling empowered, single mothers emerged from college with a strong sense of direction and the ability to recognize how social and political factors influence their daily lives. Attending and completing college also benefit single mothers in relation to their own interpersonal transformation. Accompanied with the intellectual development of attending

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college, women are less likely to be exploited and tend to contribute to the political and academic discourse (hooks, 1984). Familial Benefits As a mediator for positive educational outcomes, parental education is associated with educational success in college. Studies of first generation college students suggest that when compared to other students with a family history of college attendance, they encounter more problems transitioning to a new social and academic environment (Terenzini, Springer, Yaeger, Pascarella, & Nora, 1996; Education Resources Institute and the Institute for Higher Education Policy, 1997). Children of college-educated parents are more like to complete their degrees than first generation college students (Horn, 1999; Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998). Children of college-educated parents also have more financial and emotional support than first generation students, which may account for the finding that 11% of children in the lowest-income households earn their college degrees (Eckholm, 2008). Studies reveal that degree completion for single mothers mediates positive educational outcomes for their children. For example, college educated mothers become positive educational role models for their children, in the sinse that seeing their mothers go to college also influenced their children’s desire to attend (Kahn & Polakow, 2000; Pandy et al., 2000). A key factor in the educational success of children may be the ability of the mother to sustain employment that takes the family off welfare and into middle-class status (Orthner & Randolph, 1999). Children of college educated single mothers aspire to more highly esteemed careers and express higher educational goals than the children of single mothers with no college education (Desai, Chase-Lansdale, & Michael, 1989; Kahn & Polakow, 2000; Ripke & Crosby, 2002) and children of married college graduates (Burns, Scott, Cooney, & Gleeson, 1989). These aspirations appear attainable, because children whose mothers graduate from college tend to have higher vocabulary test scores and better emotional-behavioral control than do children whose mothers do not attend college (Colbry, 1995; Rosenzweig & Wolpin, 1994). Apparently, attending college creates positive home environments that reinforce the importance and value of learning. Degree completion for single mothers mediates other positive benefits for the entire household. Referred to as the ‘domino effect’, the enhanced self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-efficacy of college educated single mothers develops a sense of happiness in the family (Haleman, 2004; Kahn & Polakow, 2000; Kates, 1996; Thomas, 2001). In such a manner, a single mother’s college attendance promotes emotional closeness and facilitates strong family

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support systems (Colbry, 1995; Thomas, 2001). Compared to married mothers, college educated single mothers bring more flexibility to problem solving and are overall more tolerant and understanding of others (Burns et al., 1989). Additionally, their children are less likely to have sexist views about women and are more likely to effectively communicate with and demonstrate respect for others than children of college-educated married mothers. Tinto’s model (1993) Longitudinal Model of Institutional Departure Despite the benefits of graduating from college, many students leave college before earning degrees. One explanation for early departure comes from Tinto’s 1993 longitudinal model of institutional departure. This model presents a comprehensive description of the factors that lead to the decision to leave college and suggests that student retention is influenced by individual attributes upon matriculation in addition to experiences. This model is interactional in nature, where the decision to leave or remain in college depends on the combination of pre-entry dispositions (family background, skills and abilities, prior schooling), institutional experiences (such as formal and informal peer-group interactions and academic performance), and the level of academic and social integration. Using literature with reference to the concepts and language of social anthropology, Tinto describes college as a rite of passage, in which students establish membership in an adult society by transitioning to the collegiate environment. Departure occurs for students who have difficulty in making this transition. Tinto’s (1993) model of institutional departure could be considered a model for explaining how the interactions within the college system influence the decision to complete the intended degree. Beyond describing student retention, the model attempts to explain the longitudinal relationship between the campus environment and student retention. The experience of positive social and academic environment is related to a high level of commitment to complete the intended degree. Conversely, the experience of negative social and academic environment weakens commitment and hastens departure. Illustrated in Figure 1 below, the theoretical model shows a highly aesthetic model of college departure, meaning that the concepts and linkages appear to be an accurate and simple description of the circumstances that determine degree completion (Shoemaker, Tankard, & Lasorsa, 2004). Upon entering institutions of higher education, students bring with them a range of pre-entry dispositions that differ based on family and community backgrounds, race, gender, intellectual and social skills, financial resources, and prior achievements in high school (Tinto, 1993). Each pre-entry attribute directly influences initial goal commitment (getting a

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college degree) and college commitment (attending a particular institution). Additional direct influences on goal and college commitment are commitments outside of the college campus setting (external commitment) and basic intentions (career plan). Tinto (1993) postulates that these pre-entry attributes, external commitments, and intentions contribute to the establishment of interactions between the freshman college students and their academic and social systems.

Figure 1: Tinto’s model (1993) Longitudinal Model of Institutional Departure 1

Tinto (1993) describes higher education as a series of formal and informal interactive systems that constitute how well students academically and socially integrate into the college system. As the model illustrates, goal and college commitment directly influences academic and social integration that over time, influences subsequent commitment. Academic and social

1 Note. From Leaving college: Tinto’s model of institutional departure (p. 114), by V. Tinto, 1993, Chicago: University of Chicago. Copyright 1993 by the University of Chicago Press. Reprinted with permission (see Appendix).

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integration are key concepts in Tinto’s theoretical model, in that they mediate commitment and indirectly impact persistence. Additionally, interactions with faculty and staff and achievement in studies spill over into peer group relations (study groups, for example) and formal social activities. In the other direction, the social relationships with peers influence academic achievement. Tinto admits that full integration into social and academic systems is not required for persistence since external commitment and changes in intention can be strong indicators of persistence. However, Tinto explains that in the model, academic integration and social integration can be determining factors in college persistence and views the integration process as a salient feature of the model. Validation of Tinto’s model (1993) Empirical validation of Tinto’s model occurs with the assistance of Pascarella and Terenzini’s (1980) institutional integration scale, which assesses academic and social integration described in Tinto’s model. After the creation of Tinto’s initial model in 1975, Pascarella and Terenzini measured the integration process by developing and validating the Institutional Integration Scale (IIS). Developing this multidimensional measure to predict college persistence and provide statistical evidence of Tinto’s model, Pascarella and Terenzini surveyed a random sample of 1,905 college freshmen from the Northeast who completed the initial IIS instrument. Results from the exploratory factor analysis yielded a solution of five factors that were generally consistent with Tinto’s constructs: academic integration, social integration, intentions, external commitment, and institutional commitment. Results also yielded a reliable measure of Tinto’s conceptual process of college integration. Terenzini, Lorang and Pascarella (1981) replicated the initial study on a larger random sample to find consistent evidence for a reliable and valid survey instrument. Replication studies of minority college students (see Fox, 1984), community college students (see Agnes, 1993), and college students in the Midwest (see French & Oakes, 2004), further supports the validity of the IIS instrument. Since the development of the IIS, over 20 years of studies reconfirm the validity and reliability of Tinto’s model. Since the validation of the IIS, the model has been used to study sub-sets of traditional students including freshmen, females, low-income, and minority students in a variety of educational settings such as multi-institutional samples from community colleges, private colleges, and public universities (Allen & Nelson, 1989; Allen & Nora, 1995; Cleveland-Innes, 1994; Colbry, 1995; Dennis, Phinney, Chuateco, 2005; Fox, 1986; Grosset, 1997; Milem & Berger, 1997). For this study, Tinto’s (1993) model of institutional departure can be applied to

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single and married student-mothers, because it takes into account the interactions on college campus as well as commitments outside of the college environment. External commitments, particularly children, for this population may be a logical factor in explaining the decision to voluntarily exit from college. Thus, Tinto’s (1993) model of college persistence appears to be appropriate for understanding the experiences of student-mother college students. An application of Tinto’s model in a quantitative study, such as this study of student-mothers, would also be an important supplement to the educational literature. Purpose of the Study For single mothers who want to pursue college degrees, the realization that higher education may be an avenue away from poverty toward economic independence as well as interpersonal development makes degree completion a high priority. However, although it may be a priority to graduate from college, single mothers remain at high risk for dropping out of college due to financial and social reasons. While previous reports indicated a link between poverty, single parenting, and lack of education beyond high school, little was known about institutional and interpersonal experiences of single mother college students on a national level. More attention needs to be devoted to increasing degree completion by addressing the financial and social issues that confront single mothers. Given that a college education had several benefits for single mothers, how did their experiences on the college campus support or weaken their desire or ability to obtain a college degree compared to married mothers? How well did these institutions address barriers to college completion, given the additional family and financial responsibilities? These questions guided this research. The purpose of the proposed study, therefore, was to test Tinto’s concepts on a nationally representative sample of student-mothers using data from the Beginning Postsecondary Student (BPS) longitudinal study. The salient concepts examined in this study from Tinto’s model were academic integration, social integration, degree type, and external factors (age of child and family and financial difficulty). Results from this study filled a gap in knowledge by becoming the first to examine factors influencing degree completion for single and married mother undergraduates. Specific Aims The specific aims of this study were to: (a) examine the effect of family difficulties, financial difficulties, and age of the child as external factors on the probability of degree completion; (b) examine the effect of degree type on the probability of degree completion; and (c) examine how academic and social integration affects the probability of completing degrees. These examinations were made separately for single and married mothers.

Full document contains 99 pages
Abstract: The National Center for Education Statistics reports that single mother college students are nearly three times as likely to drop out of college during their first year of study compared to single females without children. Qualitative studies on single mothers indicate that financial problems and demands of parenthood are reasons that precipitate voluntary withdrawal from college. These studies also indicate that being able to academically and socially integrate into the collegiate atmosphere increases the chance of completing a degree. Considering the various obstacles facing single mothers, it becomes important to examine why some single mothers graduate from college while others leave without degrees. Therefore, the focus of this study was to examine how potential factors impacted degree completion for single mothers. To understand the magnitude of how potential factors impacted degree completion, comparisons with married mothers were performed. Although vast amounts of higher education research have been conducted on degree completion, little attention has been given exclusively to student-mothers attending college, particularly those who are single. This study utilized data provided in the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:96/01 - restricted level) employing logistic regression to investigate the influence of the integration process (academic integration and social integration), degree type (certificate, associate, and bachelor), and pertinent external factors (age of child, financial difficulties, and family difficulties) on degree completion for single and married mothers as separate groups. Findings revealed that the proposed model of degree completion operated similarly for single and married mothers. This study validated concepts from Tinto's (1993) model of institutional departure for single and married mothers. With the exception of having a child under the age of five, degree type, the integration process, and external factors predicted degree completion as hypothesized. Results from this study contributed to the knowledge base by being the first to examine factors that affected degree completion on nationally representative samples of student-mother undergraduates. Results from this study could inform educational administrators and educational policy makers about the on-campus and off-campus experiences of single mothers so that better educational and advocacy decisions can be enacted. Implications from the information founded in this study could not only benefit single mothers but also, for the 73% of nontraditional students attending postsecondary institutions in America.