Student parents underserved

A’ja, a student at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland, with her son. (Photo: Generation Hope)

Colleges need to do more for students who are parents, Generation Hope says in a new report.

According to a survey conducted by the community-based nonprofit focused on college completion and early childhood success, one in five undergraduate students – and one in four (26 percent) of community college students – is a parent, and 40 percent of student parents overall feel isolated on campus.

Yet most institutions don’t have sufficient policies or facilities to serve parents, according to the report.

A welcoming climate

The largest share of student parents, 42 percent, attend community colleges, the report said. Compared to their non-parent peers in higher education, student parents are more likely to have low incomes. Just over half (51 percent) of student parents are students of color, and nearly 60 percent are first-generation college students.

However, student parents at community colleges felt the most welcome on campus; 48 percent felt very welcome, compared to just 32 percent of student parents at four-year colleges.

Nearly half of respondents at all levels said they felt somewhat disconnected or very disconnected from their college community. The feeling of disconnect was higher for female than male students – 48 percent versus 28 percent, respectively.

Family-friendly campus?

Fifty-four percent of student parents overall and 64 percent of parents at two-year colleges did not feel comfortable bringing their children to class. Nearly a third of parenting students at two-year colleges indicated that their institution had a policy barring children in class.

More than 60 percent of respondents overall missed at least one day of class in their last semester due to lack of childcare, and seven percent missed five or more days.

Twenty-nine percent overall said their college had on-campus childcare, 24 said their college had a lactation room, and 24 percent said it had diaper-changing stations in bathrooms. Yet much fewer percentages said their colleges had play areas in waiting rooms or child care at campus events.

Lacking info on student aid

Attention to parents in the institutional culture is also lacking, the study found. Participating in extracurricular activities is difficult or very difficult for 60 percent of student parents in higher education.

Securing affordable childcare is one of the most challenging things that parenting students face, and yet, three-quarters of respondents overall – and 79 percent of black students – said that their financial aid office did not inform them that they could factor in childcare expenses when determining student aid.

Only 33 percent of community college students with children who were informed that they could qualify for additional financial aid had their award adjusted to take into account childcare costs.

“When a student parent earns a degree, it has ripple effects that span two generations,” the report said. “Their children have a better chance at achieving academic and career success themselves when their parents earn a postsecondary credential.”

A single mother who earns an associate degree will earn about $256,000 more over a lifetime than a single mother who only finished high school, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, one of the partners in the Generation Hope study.

Yet student parents have a harder time completing college. An estimated 52 percent of undergraduates in all categories of higher education left school without a diploma between 2011-12 and 2015-16, compared to 32 percent of students without children.

“These findings echo the experiences of the young parents in college who we work with every day at Generation Hope,” said Founder and CEO Nicole Lynn Lewis. “Higher ed came into this pandemic facing dropping enrollment. Now, as institutions grapple with the question of whether students will return in the fall, these findings will be even more crucial in assisting them in factoring in the needs of parenting students in their re-enroll and retention efforts.”

Track parenting status

The report offers the following recommendations for colleges to better serve students who have children:

  • Collect and track the parenting status of students.
  • Apply a parenting-student lens to the college’s diversity, equity and inclusion work.
  • Designate a staff position to champion the needs of parenting students across the institution.
  • Prioritize the creation of family-friendly policies and ensure they are clearly communicated to students.
  • Identify ways to better include parenting students in campus life.
  • Incorporate student parent needs in the college’s government relations work.

Nearly 260 individuals at more than 150 institutions participated in the survey, including 60 community college students.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.
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