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How to empower student-parents in higher education

A conversation with Generation Hope

August 21, 2023, By Kelsey Fields, Senior Analyst, Product Marketing

My mom had me at 17, and like many teen parents, had to put her education on hold to care for our family. Due to a lack of available support and resources, it wasn’t until her late 30s that she obtained a nursing degree – after missing over a decade of the socioeconomic opportunities that a degree brings.

Student-parents face extraordinary challenges while pursuing higher education, and many institutions fail to see the value and contributions these highly motivated students bring to the campus community. In a recent podcast conversation with my colleague Christina Hubbard, Generation Hope’s founder and CEO Nicole Lynn Lewis emphasizes the importance of supporting and valuing student-parents. Read on for insights from their conversation and Lewis’s advice for higher ed leaders.

Student-Parents Aren’t a Niche Population

“I started college when my daughter was just under three months old. When I stepped on campus, I thought, “These feet don’t belong here.” – Nicole Lynn Lewis


One in five undergraduate students across the country are parenting. These students face significant barriers in both high school and college: only 40% of teen parents graduate from high school, and over half of parenting college students leave school without a degree.


  • About Generation Hope

    Generation Hope, founded by Lewis, is an organization dedicated to supporting teen parents in earning their college degrees while ensuring the educational success of their children. Generation Hope strives to make college graduation a more common achievement for young parents. Their advocacy extends to parenting college students of any age, highlighting the transformational impact of a degree on their lives and their families.

The Child Care Barrier

Generation Hope’s new research report, “The Child Care Barrier: The Impacts of Inaccessible and Costly Child Care for Student Parents” explores the challenges student parents face while pursuing higher education and caring for their families. Here are some key findings:


  • Key Findings

    • Teen parents juggle multiple responsibilities. 75% of respondents provide 30+ hours of care for their child/ren each week while attending school.
    • Child care options are limited. 92% of respondents either did not have access to or were unaware of on-campus child care options. Nearly 80% of respondents wished their campuses did more to support their child care needs.
    • Many young student parents depend on support systems to provide for their families with limited incomes. Over 80% of respondents reported an annual household income below $30,000. Nearly 75% relied on informal and/or unpaid child care. (i.e. family, friends, neighbors, public school programming, etc.)
    • Gaps exist in child care support and college achievement for Black and Latinx students, families, and communities. 95% of survey respondents are students of color.

Recognizing the Motivation and Contributions of Student-Parents

Student-parents demonstrate exceptional drive and motivation to excel academically, often outperforming their non-parenting peers with higher GPAs. Lewis emphasizes that it’s crucial to acknowledge and harness this motivation to empower student-parents. Rather than viewing the challenges faced by student-parents as obstacles, universities and colleges should recognize them as opportunities. They are managing and making decisions for their families, which often translates into effective leadership within student organizations, clubs, and community initiatives. Their experiences as parents and their juggling of multiple responsibilities offer valuable insights and contribute to diverse discussions and perspectives in classrooms and campus activities.

By offering comprehensive support systems, including childcare services, flexible schedules, financial aid programs, mentorship, and counseling, institutions can empower student-parents to succeed academically while effectively managing their parenting responsibilities. To get the word out about an institution’s services, leaders should consider targeted marketing and communication efforts. This could involve sharing success stories of student-parents, highlighting available resources and support services, and actively engaging with student-parent communities on campus.

  • Generation Hope’s Four Key Components of Student-Parent Work:

    • Data: Collect data on the parenting status of students to understand their needs and inform resource allocation. Some institutions found out that 30% of their students are parenting after Generation Hope helped them stand up data collection systems.
    • Policies: Review institutional policies to ensure they are inclusive and supportive of student-parents, avoiding exclusionary measures such as “no kids on campus” policies.
    • People: Ensure that faculty and staff are trained and equipped to support student-parents, creating a supportive environment in classrooms and daily interactions.
    • Culture: Create a campus culture that embraces and celebrates student-parents, incorporating family-friendly facilities, images of parenting students in marketing materials, and other inclusive practices.

Empowering Success through Inclusive Higher Education

As higher education institutions strive to support increasingly diverse student populations, it is crucial to recognize and value the unique experiences of student-parents. Student-parents bring unique strengths and motivations to school communities, enhancing diversity and enriching practices. By reframing the narrative and viewing them as valuable assets, universities can create a more inclusive and supportive environment. The work of organizations like Generation Hope and the insights shared by Nicole Lynn Lewis shed light on the incredible potential of student-parents and the importance of providing them with the resources they need to succeed.

Kelsey Fields

Kelsey Fields

Senior Analyst, Product Marketing

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