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Housing holds back moms in college

To live independently, single mothers need an education. But to get one, they also need a place to live and child care – needs that colleges are waking up to.

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Every newly minted college grad clutching a diploma feels victorious. When Yissy Perez dons a cap and gown at Tufts University in May, she will have particular reason to celebrate. She earned her degree in civil engineering the hard way, living a double life as student and single mother to a daughter, now 22 months.

Her living arrangements made that academic journey even more difficult. Like most universities, Tufts (in Med­ford, Mass., a Boston suburb) offers no on-campus housing for mothers. Home for Ms. Perez has been a dorm. Her baby, Alleyh, lives with Perez's mother and grandmother in Lawrence, Mass., a two-hour commute by bus, subway, and train.

"I only get to see her on weekends," Perez says. "It's very hard for me."

Women now outnumber men in colleges and universities. But for those with young children, the path to a degree – and self-sufficiency – is often blocked by two obstacles: housing and child care.

Now those obstacles are propelling mothers at Tufts and elsewhere to speak up. "We want to start a movement to provide equal housing to everyone," says Griselmarie Alemar, a married Tufts student who is the mother of a 6-month-old son.

As a first step, the Tufts Community Union Senate has just passed a resolution calling for equal access to on-campus housing for undergraduate mothers. The group also gathered signatures from 600 students in support of the measure.

Bruce Reitman, dean of students, notes that the school has worked individually with mothers to meet their needs. That includes legal help, financial support, and counseling. Calling the request to provide housing for undergraduate parents "a new discussion for us," he says, "We can't tell you if it's possible to do that or not. If it's possible, we'll do it. But we've got to have the conversation about what it is they're looking for." He adds that providing a day-care center is particularly difficult.


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