Uplifting Parents


  • Catholic Social Services Rapid City, South Dakota

Focus Areas

  • Education
  • Self-Sufficiency

“The Uplifting Parents Program works with individuals and families holistically, and our mentoring reflects the uniqueness of each individual. Our ultimate goal is to move families out of poverty to prosperity and we’ve had the honor of witnessing many of those transitions.”

Director of the Uplifting Parents Program at Catholic Social Services in Rapid City, South Dakota

The Issue

Ask any college student—earning a degree is hard. Add a couple of kids and the complexities of low-income single parenthood, and finishing college can become nearly impossible. Childcare is expensive and difficult to access, and many college campuses don’t offer it. And, as all parents know, raising great children is a full-time job. Balancing family, class, work, and financial commitments can quickly become exhausting. 

But college degrees are important for labor market success, which is important for building healthy, stable families. Completing college is often a reliable path to higher earnings, stable employment, and economic security. For single parents, obstacles to education become obstacles to taking care of their families. And so many lack the support they need to overcome these obstacles.

Single parenthood falls disproportionately on women. Of all children who live with single parents, 84% live with single mothers. Of single mothers who enroll in college, only 8% graduate with an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years. Compare this with the 49% of all female students who finish their degrees in the same amount of time. While pursuing a degree and raising a family alone is already difficult, 89% of single student mothers are low-income. Like many social and systemic disadvantages, the struggles of low-income single motherhood disproportionately affect people of color. 

But education is hope. In 2012, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that 42% of single mothers with only a high school diploma live in poverty, compared with just 13% of single mothers with a bachelor’s degree. With each level of education, single mothers see a 32% decrease in their likelihood of living in poverty. 

Higher education also comes with significant financial gains. A college degree earns on average $8,000 more every year than a high school diploma. Over the course of a lifetime, the cumulative financial benefits of a college degree are huge. And with higher earnings, college graduates pay more in taxes and are less likely to receive public benefits. 

Not only does college completion lead to higher earnings and meaningful employment for degree earners, but it also leads to better educational opportunities and life outcomes for their children. In 2017, the Pew Research Center reported that 25% of U.S. children under the age of 18—over 18 million kids—were living with a single parent. Helping single parents earn college degrees helps secure brighter futures for their kids. Across generations, a college education can break the cycle of poverty altogether.    

The Intervention

Uplifting Parents empowers single parents and provides support for their education or job training. The program serves single parents in the Rapid City, SD area who are motivated to complete a degree and begin a professional career. Whether completing an education or learning a new skill, those enrolled in Uplifting Parents receive the support they need to launch meaningful careers and provide greater opportunities for their children. 

Uplifting Parents includes financial and mentoring resources like scholarship funds and stipends, case management, parenting classes, financial counseling, and community engagement opportunities. Perhaps the most important part of Uplifting Parents is the focus on mentoring. Participants form strong relationships with their mentors at Catholic Social Services, and mentors help navigate potential crises that can hinder a parent’s success.

Single parents must be referred to Uplifting Parents by an employer or other social service agency in order to participate. After referral, parents must complete an in-depth application and interview process before receiving a spot in the program.  

Research Question

Do mentoring and financial support services impact the likelihood single parents will earn their college degrees and enter a stable and sustainable career?

Intended Outcomes

  • Single parents who participate in Uplifting Parents will have higher college completion rates and higher earnings than those who do not.
  • Their children will have better test scores and other classroom outcomes.

Research Study Design

The Uplifting Parents study is a five-year randomized controlled trial. To be eligible for the program, applicants must be over 18, earn low incomes, be a parent or expecting a baby, and be free of any substance abuse or addiction issues. Applicants must also demonstrate a history of stability and potential to succeed in school. 

Baseline employment and earnings information is collected for use by the LEO evaluation team. After submitting an application, parents are invited to interview with Uplifting Parents’ program staff. Staff members then decide which individuals will benefit the most from participating in the Uplifting Parents program.

Every year for three years, Uplifting Parents enrolls 72 participants in the study. Because Catholic Social Services does not have the resources to offer the program to all eligible applicants, a lottery determines who receives the services and who does not. Each year, the lottery sorts approximately 36 individuals into the treatment group, meaning they receive a spot in Uplifting Parents. The remaining applicants do not receive a spot, and so become part of the control group. 

Using administrative data sources, LEO researchers track and compare the earnings, employment, public benefits usage, and educational outcomes of those participating in Uplifting Parents to those of the control group. 

(Photo credit: Uplifting Parents)

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