Report on Student Parents’ Experiences Highlights Lack of Support in Higher Ed

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Feeling disconnected and unwelcomed, in need of family-friendly policies, and assistance in applying for available aid were just some of the primary concerns for student parents revealed in a report conducted by Generation Hope, a nonprofit focused on college completion and early childhood success.

With nearly 1 in 5 college students nationwide being a parent, the survey, accompanied by a number of recommendations, aims to provide colleges and universities with guidance to help in increasing college completion rates of parenting students.

Barbara Gault, executive director and vice president at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), and Tiffany Boiman, senior outreach and policy associate for IWPR said that even among higher education professionals, people are often surprised to learn that students with children (i.e., student parents) comprise more than a quarter of the student population. 

Student parents totaled 3.8 million nationwide, according to an IWPR analysis of 2015-16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey (NPSAS) data. Gault and Boiman said this is significant, in part, because generally student parents demonstrate an additional $5,000 more in annual unmet financial need than the student population at large.

This struggle for student parents is nothing new, according to a report released in September 2019 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In 2015-16, according to that report, 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.

Generation Hope’s national survey was conducted with a number of organizations and included 259 student parent participants from 147 colleges and universities.

For higher education institutions that want to improve their completion and student success metrics for student parents, the study had a number of recommendations. 

Specifically, it urged schools to not just invest in a program or a child care center, but rather create an institution-wide lens that considers the needs of student parents in the implementation of all of its services.

The report also called for schools to collect data on the parenting status of students in order to better assess their needs, especially since most students surveyed (71%) said they were very comfortable or somewhat comfortable disclosing parenting status to their professors.

The survey also found a need for financial aid offices to provide parenting students with additional information, as 75% of respondents reported that their financial aid office did not inform them that child care expenses could be taken into account in the determination of their financial aid award.

“By working with Generation Hope to better understand this growing population, we're shining a light on these issues and supporting their efforts to solve them,” said Chegg’s Director of Social Impact Lila Thomas, which partnered in conducting the survey.

In order to improve outcomes, Generation Hope recommended that colleges apply a parenting student lens to their campus diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work because the needs of parenting students are intertwined with the needs of various other groups.

"When student parents rise, we all thrive,” said Vinice Davis, a venture partner at Imaginable Futures. “Student parents are incredibly determined to thrive, but our current system is limiting. Acknowledging their existence and understanding their needs is a great first step to eliminating the barriers to their success.”


Publication Date: 5/20/2020

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