The Life Course of Single Welfare-Reliant Mothers: Experiences in Seeking Access to and Persisting in Post-Secondary Education
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Welfare reform, as a social policy, has implications for higher education policy, because it restricts welfare-reliant women from seeking sufficient post-secondary education for economic mobility. The 2006 Deficit Reduction Act was reinterpreted in the 2008 final rule, allowing welfare-reliant mothers to pursue up to 12 months of post-secondary education. However, this is not sufficient for mothers to persist toward completion of associate's or bachelor's degrees. Recent scholarship has not adequately investigated the impact of this expanded access to post-secondary education. The purpose of this study was to investigate the essence of single welfare-reliant mothers' experiences in their life course from poverty to post-secondary education. To better understand the essence of their experience, this study utilized a transcendental phenomenological approach to investigate experiences that influenced their (a) pathways and social roles, (b) perspectives as sole providers, and (c) decisions to access and persist in post-secondary education. The three major findings of this study were presented in the context of a developmental life course framework supported by social role theory and women's adult The three major findings of this study were presented in the context of a developmental life course framework supported by social role theory and women's adult identity development concepts. The first major finding elucidated two distinct pathways to adulthood for six single welfare-reliant mothers. The three teen mothers experienced transitions to adulthood that were premature, truncated, and compacted. As a result they missed their developmental task of exploring possible selves in their transitions to adulthood. During their identity development as sole providers they returned to the task of exploring possible selves in their choices to access post-secondary education. The second major finding elucidated that single welfare-reliant mothers' perspectives as sole providers were experienced as an evolving adult identity, beginning with the birth of their first child and evolving throughout the era of early adulthood as mothers persisted in post-secondary education. The third major finding elucidated a recurring pattern of negotiating between role conflict and role salience experienced by single welfare-reliant mothers that resulted in critical junctures and recurring commitments to their decisions to persist toward post-secondary education goals. This study determined that commitment toward their adult identity as sole providers had a direct link to their commitment toward persisting in post-secondary education.
McPherson, Rebecca (2012). The Life Course of Single Welfare-Reliant Mothers: Experiences in Seeking Access to and Persisting in Post-Secondary Education. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from