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Housing holds back moms in college

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Beyond housing and child care, these women sometimes face another challenge: stereotypes about young mothers. "Right now in our society it's deemed that if you're a young parent, you're doing it wrong, and you've ruined your life," Ms. Alemar says. "Twenty years ago, if you had a kid at 30, it was [considered] odd. Now if you have a baby before 30, it's odd."

Last fall, Anne Stevenson, a 2006 graduate of Tufts, formed the Tufts Alliance for the Advancement of Mothers to advocate for housing. Explaining that dozens of mothers drop out of school each year because they lack housing, she says, "Without an education, they cannot make a better life for their families."

As she studied for a degree in political science, Ms. Stevenson held two jobs, carried a full course load, and cared for her young son. Because she could not live on campus with him, she paid $1,500 a month for an apartment in a high-crime neighborhood of Somerville, Mass. Even with a full academic scholarship, she accumulated $35,000 in loans and debts.

At Endicott College in Peabody, Mass., seven mothers and their children live in apartments designed specifically for parents. The dormitory features a playroom inside and a play yard outside. Next year a custodial father and his child will join the program.

"Two of the mothers are honor students, and two freshmen made the dean's list," says Jill Sullivan, director of the Keys to Degrees program. "They have quite a stressful schedule and workload, and they get it done."

Richard Wylie, Endicott's president and creator of the program, notes another advantage. "It's important that other students see these single mothers as not just the beneficiaries of federal aid and state aid," he says. "They want to be independent."

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