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Education Design Lab Announces Design Challenge with Community Colleges to Boost Graduation Rates for Single Mothers

Education Design Lab taps four large community colleges in an ambitious effort to raise single-mother completion rate 30 percent at each institution by 2024

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2019–– The national nonprofit Education Design Lab today announced the community colleges selected to be part of a multi-year design challenge that will test and scale strategies to dramatically improve success rates for single mothers over the next six years. The cohort of institutions selected for the initiative includes:

  • Central New Mexico Community College, Albuquerque, N.M., which is the largest community college in New Mexico, serving more than 36,000 students per year, and a designated Hispanic Serving Institution.
  • Delgado Community College, New Orleans, La., the state’s largest community college, which enrolls more than 20,000 students, nearly 20 percent of whom are single parents.
  • Monroe Community College, Rochester, N.Y., with urban and suburban campuses, serves more than 29,000 students, including hundreds of single mothers who live at or below the federal poverty line.
  • Ivy Tech Community College, Indianapolis, Ind., the country’s largest singly accredited statewide community college system and serves 160,000 students.

Each year, 2.1 million single mothers enroll in higher education. Research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that nearly 90 percent were low-income, 43 percent worked more than 30 hours a week, and 40 percent said they were likely or very likely to drop out due to dependent care obligations. IWPR reports that among all women attending community college, 21 percent are single mothers and 44 percent of all single student mothers attend public two-year institutions.

“The majority of today’s undergraduate students are parents or caregivers, adult learners, part-time students, and full-time workers. And single mothers in particular are not well served by the current system,” said Marta Urquilla, Chief Program Officer at the Education Design Lab. “The institutions we have selected for this design challenge are working hard to change that. Each has already demonstrated a unique commitment to improving outcomes for single mothers. Together, they have transformative potential to create and scale new models to reach more women and families across the country.”

“Families led by single mothers in New Orleans experience poverty at a rate twice the national average. We know that low wages contribute to this inequality and Delgado Community College is committed to addressing this need,” said Dr. William Wainwright, Interim Chancellor of Delgado Community College. “We look forward to getting started on creating new postsecondary solutions that will connect single mothers to the workforce and increase their ability to provide for their families.”

With backing from ECMC Foundation, Education Design Lab selected the participating institutions from a national pool of applicants based on their innovation readiness, approach to student success, and student demographics. The cohort has committed to collaborate in the design of innovative programs and initiatives with the goal of raising attainment rates for single mothers by 30 percent at their institutions by 2024.

Over the next two years, the Education Design Lab will facilitate a structured process for the institutions to design, implement, and scale interventions that can dramatically improve attainment rates for single mothers attending community college. Higher education design experts and subject matter experts from the Lab and its network will support the institutions as they test and scale innovations designed to meet the unique needs of single mothers. Upon successful completion of the design year, each institution will be eligible to receive a one-time startup fund (up to $50,000) to support the launch of the pilot.

“A college credential is critical to improving the economic mobility of millions of single mothers and their families,” said Peter Taylor, President of ECMC Foundation. “As part of our commitment to improving outcomes for single moms in postsecondary education, this work will power the development of specialized supports and interventions to bring evidence-based strategies to help more single mothers succeed in college.”

Evaluation and dissemination will be a core component of the initiative. The four community colleges will participate in an evaluation to track student outcomes and surface new research and insights for closing achievement gaps among parent learners nationwide. Through this initiative, the Lab is contributing to a growing movement of research, awareness and action centered on single mother learners. The competitive pool of institutions that applied for the design challenge represent part of a renewed, nationwide focus on single parents at the nation’s community colleges.

“This design challenge represents an important step forward in making community college work for single mothers, who are disproportionately likely to have low incomes and often come from backgrounds underrepresented in higher education,” said Barbara Gault, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Washington, DC. “When we invest in their postsecondary success, we are helping single mothers build a better future for their families, which benefits communities and society as a whole.”


About Education Design Lab: Education Design Lab is a national nonprofit that designs, tests, and implements unique higher education models and credentials that address the rapidly changing economy and emerging technology opportunities. The Lab demonstrates where technology, rigor, and design can improve opportunity for historically underserved learners to maximize their potential in the higher education system.

Education Design Lab works across disciplines and alongside schools, employers, entrepreneurs, government, foundations, nonprofits, and innovators. The organization has significant experience managing national and local learning cohorts, working with organizations such as The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the United Negro College Fund, Walmart, American Council on Education and the ECMC Foundation. Learn more:

About ECMC Foundation: ECMC Foundation is a Los Angeles-based, nationally focused foundation whose mission is to inspire and to facilitate improvements that affect educational outcomes—especially among underserved populations—through evidence-based innovation. It is one of several affiliates under the ECMC Group enterprise based in Minneapolis. ECMC Foundation makes investments in two focus areas: College Success and Career Readiness; and uses a spectrum of funding structures, including strategic grantmaking and program-related investments, to invest in both nonprofit and for-profit ventures. Working with grantees, partners and peers, ECMC Foundation’s vision is for all learners to unlock their fullest potential. Learn more about ECMC Foundation by visiting and ECMC Group by visiting