By Valerie Gipson
About 3.8 million of today’s undergrad students are also parents—meaning they represent about one-fifth of the total undergraduate student population. But limited data on student-parents means that colleges and universities often overlook this population. And while these students require some of the same support and flexible options that other adult learners need, there are also challenges unique to parents.
A survey of parenting students by Generation Hope found that 63% of respondents missed one or more classes due to a lack of childcare, and 59% were unaware of institutional policies regarding children in class. Given these trends, it is unsurprising that 52% of student-parents leave school without a degree, compared to only 32% of non-parenting students. In light of these challenges, here are a few solutions and strategies to better support parenting students in their educational journey.
Uncovering your student-parent population
As a first step in promoting equity and increasing support for parenting students, institutions should collect data on student-parent status. On a recent episode of EAB’s Office Hours podcast, David Croom from the Aspen Institute suggested that collecting parental status data can help schools better understand their campus communities and student outcomes. Schools can collect data with minimal effort and cost through admission forms or surveys during course registration. This data can then be used to inform financial aid, funding of support services, and developing policies that specifically target parenting students’ needs.
Nicole Lynn Lewis, the founder of Generation Hope, echoes the importance of collecting data on student-parents. Generation Hope found that Black female undergraduates make up nearly half of all parenting students nationally. From this, Lewis concludes that support for student-parents can supplement institutions’ racial justice work.
How can you better serve parenting students?
Between 2004 and 2019, the number of public 2- and 4-year schools offering childcare services declined by 17 and 10 percentage points, respectively. And it comes as no surprise that students parenting children under 13 experience a significant reduction in discretionary time to study.
Amid this concerning landscape, there are encouraging signs of progress towards ensuring equitable access to education. For example, Misericordia University’s Women with Children Program (WWC) is one of eight programs nationally providing substantial support to student-parents. The WWC program assists up to 16 students who are single mothers in securing childcare and up to four years of free on-campus family housing. In doing so, the Women with Children Program provides the financial support, housing security, and additional study time many student-parents need to succeed and graduate.
While programs like WWC are not feasible for all schools, smaller-scale initiatives may include:
- Creating a resource hub specific to student-parents
- Developing partnerships with local childcare providers
- Organizing a food and basic needs drive
Schools like Los Angeles Valley College have successfully offered smaller programs to increase semester completion rates for student-parents. The College’s Family Resource Center (FRC) provides parenting students with access to a lactation room, internships, formula, diapers, wipes, and more. The Center's services and resources align with recommendations from the Lumina Foundation’s National Student-Parent Survey and those from Generation Hope founder, Nicole Lynn Lewis, who suggest adding family-centered resources to increase student-parents' feelings of belonging on campus. Fifty-four percent of student-parents surveyed agreed that Los Angeles Valley College's program helped them stay in school. And a related report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that parenting students who accessed the FRC services were more successful academically than those who did not. Ultimately, smaller-scale programs have proven that creating dedicated support systems for parents is both possible and effective.
By identifying and supporting parenting students, you can bridge the gap in resources and enable these students to overcome obstacles, ensuring higher completion rates and improved educational outcomes. For more information and ideas on how to support the today’s students, listen to our podcasts: It’s Time to Strengthen Support for Student-Parents and Are You Treating Student-Parents as a Liability or Asset?
Ready to find out more?
Explore new insights into competition and growth in the master’s market—and what it takes to win.