Institutions Partner With States to Help Student-Parents, But More Is Needed

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

As more students with children enroll in higher education, institutions must quickly grapple with how to adapt to their unique needs. While a report released last month pointed to flaws in a federal program to help students pay for child care, universities and colleges are tapping into their state governments for funding to support student-parents — but more can be done to support schools in their efforts.  

A report released last month from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that in 2015-16, 22% of undergraduates had children, and more than half of student-parents dropped out of higher education before earning a degree as of 2009, compared to one-third of students without children. GAO pointed fingers in the report at the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, which provides grants to institutions to create or supplement child care centers on campus, for lacking crucial enrollment and graduation data.

Some states, however, have taken child care supports into their own hands, embedding assistance for student-parents into their state financial aid policies.   

Oregon’s program, for example, known as the Oregon Student Child Care Grant, disburses funds directly to the institutions of eligible students, or those enrolled at the state’s community colleges and public and private universities. Students are awarded the grant based on their financial need, enrollment, and whether they have a registered or certified child care provider.

However, the program — wholly supported by the state’s general funds — is a small program with limited funding, said Juan Baez-Arevalo, the director of the Office of Student Access and Completion at the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission. There are students who can’t access the grant because funding for the program has “not increased in years,” he said. 

In the 2017-18 academic year, the program served 87 student-parents who received a total of $455,543.

“Demand for the program exceeds current funding levels,” Baez-Arevalo said. “A significant increase would be needed to serve more student-parents.”

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently won a battle to increase funds into the Cal Grant program to target more student-parents. The grant supports 300,000 students throughout the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges systems — 10% of whom have children. Lawmakers initially opposed Newsom’s plan to grant $6,000 more to student-parents when it was introduced in January, arguing that the effort was complicated and would leave out large amounts of needy students who did not already receive the Cal Grant.

Other states are making use of programs funded by both the federal government and states to pave unique paths to support students with children.  

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, for example, grants states broad flexibility in how they use these federal funds — from deciding on program design to instituting eligibility requirements — as long as their efforts target one of the program’s core missions, such as “to end the dependence of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage.” Plus, to receive TANF funds, states must also spend some of their own money on programs to help needy families within their borders, known as the maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement. 

Kentucky directs its TANF funds into a program that offers residents education and work training, known as the “Ready-to-Work” program. Students receiving TANF benefits in Kentucky — dubbed the Kentucky Transitional Assistance program (KTAP) — can participate in the Ready-to-Work program if they are enrolled at a community or technical college in Kentucky, or at one of its three state universities: Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), Murray State University, and Northern Kentucky University.

The program at EKU has been around since 1998 — and since then has assisted hundreds of students. On its Richmond campus, the program serves up to 50 student-parents each year, and works with up to 10 families on its regional campuses, according to Robyn Moreland, the director of the Center for Student Parents at EKU. 

“For our students, the support and guidance they receive from our program is credited to what makes completing their college degree possible,” Moreland said. “Of those student-parents [who] participate in my program, they maintain an average 2.9 GPA, which is above the university average for groups of similar high-risk status. Plus, our retention rate rarely falls below 90%.”

Since the program is funded through TANF, however, Moreland and her team administering the Ready-to-Work program at EKU can only serve students who receive that benefit, which she said is “just a small portion of student parents at our university.” Plus, the annual TANF grant available to all states has been set at $16.5 billion since it was created in 1996, and has lost 40% of its value due to inflation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). 

Illinois has also made use of a program funded through a partnership between the federal government and its state — the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) — which supplements the cost of child care for residents who earn below a certain amount, have children under the age of 13, and are either employed or enrolled in high school or higher education. 

The inclusion of students in the program, however, was not always guaranteed. The state’s previous governor shut students out of the program five years ago by implementing stricter eligibility requirements, which was only recently reversed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who took office in January.

“The policies they implemented resulted in a drastic reduction in enrollment in this program, and the program still hasn't recovered,” said Dan Harris, executive director of the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (INCCRRA), an organization overseeing 16 local child care referral agencies. 

What changed with the new administration, Harris said, is “an acknowledgement of the importance of a degree in helping families become self-sufficient, helping families to be more successful, [and] a desire to help families achieve those goals.”

Harris explained that child care agencies in the state are working with two- and four-year colleges to “develop relationships with higher education institutions so students can be aware of [the program].” Harris estimated the program serves thousands of children whose parents are enrolled in school. 

In addition to reversing program requirements that excluded students, Illinois just invested an additional $32 million in the program, with the goal of increasing enrollment by 20,000 children by June 2020, WGLT reported. 

Despite those gains, however, Harris said student parents in the state are still finding it challenging to secure child care. 

“The fact that the state is subsidizing the cost of child care, doesn’t mean that care is still widely available. We’ve seen both in Illinois and nationally a decrease in child care providers, both licensed and home-based,” Harris said. “Even when families are eligible for this subsidy and take advantage of it, they can still have difficulty finding arrangements.”

Harris said the state is working with child care advocates, community child care providers, and other stakeholders to “try and find ways to expand the provider base.”

As states debate their policies about funds for student-parents, a handful of Democratic presidential candidates also also taking up the issue of affordable child care. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) proposal, for example — which is perhaps the most aggressive —  would require that the federal government partner with local providers, such as states, cities, nonprofits, and school districts, to create “a network of child care options that would be available to every family,” paid for by a tax on the wealthy. Plus, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have all co-sponsored the Child Care for Working Families Act — a proposal similar to Warren’s, except that it expands the existing Child Care and Development Block Grant program, while Warren seeks to create an entirely new system.

In the meantime, states and universities are continuing to search for ways to support student-parents. Harris of Illinois is currently working to publicize the state’s new eligibility requirements for its child care program, and Moreland said EKU is in the middle of an effort to better identify its student-parent population, beginning with a survey that received more than 600 responses. 

“We know that children obtain the educational level of their mothers. When we support a mother through graduation, you are changing the future for her children,” Moreland said. “That is why programs that help student parents in college is essential to our community.”

Is your state offering financial aid or other types of supports for students with children? Share those efforts with us in the comments section, or send us an email.


Publication Date: 10/11/2019

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