Helping student parents overcome barriers


A new report examining promising ideas and practices in supporting student parents lists common barriers to their success, as well as innovative ways to overcome them.

Through the inaugural Rise Prize, Imaginable Futures and Lumina Foundation focused on a range of organizations’ efforts to help so-called “Risers” complete college and improve their economic mobility. Earlier this year, the project selected 15 programs from nearly 340 applications that will share more than $1.5 million to continue with their efforts and to scale them. (The American Association of Community Colleges is among the partners in the project.)

Imaginable Futures and Lumina examined all the applications to pool key takeaways. Prospective solutions to common barriers faced by student parents range from providing affordable childcare and wraparound support services (such as mentoring, mental health services and peer learning), to more flexible approaches to higher education and a clearer connection between credentials and careers.

Student parents comprise nearly 25 percent of the total undergraduate population, according to the report, with many Risers enrolling in nontraditional credential, certificate and workforce programs. However, many higher education institutions are not prepared to best serve this population of students, who typically take longer to earn a credential because of various work and family obligations that they juggle.

Good ideas

Only one community college was selected for a Rise Prize grant, but the report includes several promising approaches from several community college applicants. Washington’s Everett Community College will receive $200,000 for its Weekend College for Parents program, which pairs weekend-only college coursework with access to essential student services, such as drop-in childcare.

Among examples of promising practices at community colleges:

  • Monroe Community College (New York) enrolls student parents in short-term, highly effective training and academic programs supported by high-touch, tailored and career-oriented programs.
  • Colorado’s Arapahoe Community College and Centura Health offer a no-debt healthcare apprenticeship program that pays student parents and gives them hands-on experience to try a healthcare career.
  • The Los Angeles Valley College Family Resource Center provides support ranging from academic tutoring and mental health counseling, to child-friendly study lounges, parenting classes and emergency funds.
  • In Massachusetts, Bristol Community College‘s collaboration between its Office of Disability Services and BuildED Corporation provides tech-enabled learning solutions adapted to the pace and modality of each student’s learning, including those with disabilities.
  • New York’s Rockland Community College proposed partnering with the Rockland County YMCA to offer enriching childcare while parents are on campus for three hours or less.
  • North Central Texas College proposed Hope Rises, a collaboration in which community childcare centers would provide childcare at study sessions for Risers.
  • Dallas College proposed a fund to help student parents with non-tuition costs like GED testing and nursing uniforms.

There are plenty of examples from other organizations that community colleges may find useful. For instance, Beyond 12 offers a digital coaching platform combining human coaches, a campus-customized mobile app, and artificial intelligence-powered analytics to help first-generation students. RaiseMe nudges Risers to complete tasks related to success, such as filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and rewards them with financial incentives for each completed task.

The foundation of Charter Oak State College — Connecticut’s public online college that provides master’s, bachelor’s and associate degree programs, and certificate programs for adults — offers a holistic approach for low-income single mothers by removing barriers such as childcare, technology and internet access, while providing book vouchers, academic counseling and other supports.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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