More than a quarter of undergrads are also parents

Subsidized childcare removes a large burden for students with children

Campus-based services such as childcare and support programs are needed to help student parents stay on track to graduation, Leah Askarinam reports for The Atlantic

The number of college students raising children reached 4.8 million in 2011, representing more than one-quarter of the entire undergraduate population. Most of these parents are low-income and are less likely to complete their degree or certification within six years. 

"The data show that students with children are less likely to persist and complete than other students," says Barbara Gault, the vice president and executive director of the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "Those childcare expenses can become a real burden and a challenge to their ability to succeed in school."

Without resources such as childcare and transportation, women of color with children are particularly at risk of falling behind.

"We're talking about just the reality of who needs these services, and so it is a gender and race issue, it's an economic issue, it spans so many of these categories," says Neena Chaudhry, the senior counsel and director of education at the National Women's Law Center. "So, it's critical that women in general—and particularly women of color—are able to get the degrees that they need and advance and get into the fields that they want to."

Related: Support services for students with children

As the demand for campus-based programs for student parents increases, colleges are taking note of ways in which they can support this demographic.

"I think most colleges need to come around to an acceptance of who their population is, that the norm is no longer that 18-year-old coming straight out of high school but potentially that 26-year-old who has a part-time job and a child," says Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy.

Duke-Benfield served as the project manager of the Benefits Access for College Completion program, which worked with community and technical colleges to connect low-income students with resources for success.

One of the schools in the program was LaGuardia Community College, where one-quarter of students are parents. The school's Early Childhood Learning Center served nearly 200 children last fall, providing student parents with local subsidized childcare. Of the parents who use the center, 90% would not otherwise be able to afford both childcare and tuition, according to Michael Baston, vice president of student affairs at LaGuardia.

Expanding early childcare centers

In addition to a daycare facility, LaGuardia provides a range of services such as:

  • A Fatherhood Academy;
  • A food pantry;
  • A women's center; and
  • Food vouchers.

LaGuardia has also begun screening for students who would benefit from additional student orientation and financial aid support. Now re-enrollment is higher for students raising children than it is for the general student body.

"All of these initiatives are aimed at helping students reduce the barriers to completion that are erected by their life circumstance before they get here," Baston says.

Students can also take advantage of the federal Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program, which subsidizes childcare for parents enrolled in college. Rep. Katherine Clark (D) hopes to boost funding for CCAMPIS to $67 million. The program has been funded at about $15 million annually for the last decade (Askarinam, The Atlantic, 3/21).

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