GAO: More Than Half of Student Parents Drop Out, Data Is Lacking on the Program That Helps Them

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

As of 2009, more than half of students with children dropped out of higher education before earning a degree — compared to one-third of students without children — as the federal program designed to help them afford child care and stay enrolled is lacking crucial data, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). 

GAO found — in a report released Thursday by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) —  that in 2015-16, 22% of undergraduates (4.3 million students) had children, and of those, 55% were single parents, 44% worked full-time while enrolled, and 64% were enrolled part-time. About half of those students paid an average of $490 per month for child care.

While there are a few federal programs that help student parents pay for non-tuition costs, the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program is “the only one designed specifically to support the participation of low-income parents in postsecondary education by funding [child care] services,” GAO wrote. In 2015-16, CCAMPIS helped 3,300 student parents pay for child care for 4,000 children, with another 4,200 children on the waitlist. The median monthly payment for child care after the program assistance was $160. However, GAO wrote that ED is lacking necessary data on the program’s ability to increase completion rates —  information that would allow Congress to determine whether it is effective.

“Parents who are trying to build a better life for their children through education should be given every opportunity available to access quality, affordable child care while completing their degree. This report shows there are simple steps that colleges and [ED] can take to better inform student parents of their financial aid options,” Murray said in a statement.

In the report, GAO pointed to flaws in the way ED reports and measures program participants' persistence and graduation rates, and said that despite the fact that ED responded saying it would correct its metrics, GAO remained concerned. For example, ED wrote to GAO that it would clarify that its calculations for completion rates for students who participate in CCAMPIS “within three years of enrollment,” referred to within three years of enrolling in the CCAMPIS program, not in college. GAO wrote, however, that ED’s current calculations “do not align” with either measure. While ED also responded that it plans to explore a different way to calculate persistence rates and clarify its collection terms, it must “carefully balance the need to collect more informative and reliable data from grantees with the need to avoid adding unnecessary reporting burdens.”

At the same time, GAO wrote that it was concerned that student parents were also not made aware of their ability to receive more federal loans by asking for their institutions to include an allowance for dependent expenses as they calculated their eligibility for financial aid. In its report, GAO found that two-thirds of institutions it reviewed don’t include this information on their websites (40 out of 62 websites). 

GAO wrote that ED should encourage institutions to include allowance information online, though ED responded that “it believes it would be inappropriate to indiscriminately encourage all schools to encourage student parents to borrow additional loans without considering a student's individual financial circumstances.” 

Other lawmakers have also taken action recently to support adult students in their pursuit of higher education. Just last week, a bipartisan group of representatives introduced a bill to help students who are working and/or have dependents access more financial aid by extending their lifetime Pell Grant eligibility and raising the allowable income threshold for Title IV aid.

Additionally, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) is currently assisting 14 states in establishing Promise Programs specifically targeted at adult learners. 

“Parents pursuing higher education to reach their career goals and provide for their families shouldn’t have to struggle to afford child care. The price of college tuition is unreasonable as it is, and when you add in the high costs and inaccessibility of child care services, it becomes unattainable for too many,” Duckworth said. “Child care isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity and this report shows there’s more we can be doing to make sure student parents know their options.”

What innovative things is your institution doing now to help working parents? Submit your response to our policy team!


Publication Date: 9/13/2019

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