First Advisor

Martha Balshem

Term of Graduation

Winter 2009

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Sociology






Mothers -- Higher Education -- Social networks, Women college students -- Family relationships -- Oregon -- Portland, College attendance -- Women -- Social networks



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, iv, 155 pages)


Women with children are the fastest growing population of students within higher education. Women with children attempt to obtain a college degree for varied reasons, including self-development, social mobility, and to be a good role model for their children. Student moms face several obstacles in their attempts to obtain a college degree including financial constraints, childcare issues, marginalization, time constraints, and isolation. There is a paucity of research on student moms and the factors that contribute to their successful completion of a college degree. More research is needed to understand student moms’ experiences and to develop effective support programs within higher education institutions.

The purpose of this study was to examine how social support affects student moms’ educational experiences. The theoretical constructs that framed the study were group membership, social integration, and social capital. The literature review supported the relevancy of these constructs.

For this study, twenty-eight senior level, undergraduate student moms were recruited from Portland State University to participate in focus groups where they were asked to discuss and write about attending the university while raising children. Participants were asked to discuss and write about positive sources of support,negative sources of support, sense of belonging on campus, the status of student moms within the institution, and advice for other student moms.

Focus group data were coded and analyzed using qualitative methods. The data showed that social support is important for student moms to be successful in attending university while raising children. The data also showed that the student moms in this study had a narrow pool of support and that most of that support came from participants’ immediate family. The student moms in this study reported a lack of connection or sense of belonging on campus; however that did not lead to a dropout decision. As such, it was found that social capital theory was more fruitful than social integration theory for explaining student moms’ experiences. In addition, it was found that a richer, more complete theoretical model was necessary for analyzing the data; therefore the notion of emotional capital was added to the final analysis.


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Persistent Identifier

Included in

Sociology Commons