Low-Income Student Parents Cannot Afford College and Child Care, Report Finds

By Maria Carrasco, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Low-income student parents on average would need to work 52 hours per week, on top of their full-time classes, to cover child care and tuition costs at a four-year public institution in the U.S., a new report by the Education Trust (Ed Trust) and Generation Hope found.  

The report, released Wednesday, found that in any U.S. state, a student parent from a low-income background, meaning a household making less than $30,000 a year, who works 10 hours a week at minimum wage still cannot afford both child care and college tuition at a public institution. Ed Trust in a previous report recommended that 10 hours of additional work a week is the most that a student, regardless of whether they are a parent, can manage and still be successful academically. 

Ed Trust and Generation Hope found this information by examining the cost of child care and cost of attending a public four-year institution in 50 states and Washington, D.C. — which includes tuition and fees, housing, food, books, and transportation — to determine a student parent’s actual annual cost of pursuing a degree. 

Using that number, they added the minimum wage income earned from working a job for 10 hours a week, which Ed Trust recommends. The expected cost of child care in each state was then subtracted from the total, which the report calls “the student parent affordability gap.”

The report states while many states look affordable based on their reported net price, many states actually have a wider affordability gap for student parents when child care is factored in. Washington, D.C., ranked first with the largest difference between the reported net price of higher education compared to the student parent affordability gap for parents who pay for child care at a center. D.C. has a reported net price of $15,313 but with child care added it would actually cost the student parent $30,145 to live and attend college. Other top states on this list include Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland.

For student parents who have home-based child care, New Jersey ranked as the most expensive, with a net price of $13,997, or $25,501 including child care. Other top states on this list include Texas, Hawaii, Georgia, and New York. 

Overall, the report found on average, a student parent would need to work anywhere from 30 to 90 hours per week to cover child care and tuition costs at a public institution in the U.S — making the out-of-pocket cost for college two to five times higher for low-income student parents compared to their peers who are not parents. The report adds that net price alone is not a good indicator of college affordability for student parents, because child care access and costs can vary widely. 

Additionally, the report calculated the average number of hours that student parents using center-based child care must work. Pennsylvania ranked first, with student parents needing to work an average of 81 hours per week. Following the state is Georgia at 77 hours per week and Wyoming at 76 hours per week. All three states have a minimum wage of $7.25. 

However, when it comes to student parents that use home-based child care, Georgia ranked first, with student parents needing to work an average of 90 hours per week. Pennsylvania followed at 77 hours per week and New Hampshire at 75 hours per week, which also has a minimum wage of $7.25.

“Student parents are confronting the nation’s two fastest-growing expenditures – child care and college costs,” said Brittani Williams, a senior higher education policy analyst at Ed Trust, in a statement. “As a former student parent myself, I know all too well the hurdles that must be overcome on the path to earning a degree. That is why we are calling on federal, state, and institutional leaders and policymakers to act now to ensure that student parents can thrive in college and enter competitive, well-paying, career fields to support themselves and their families.”

The report made several recommendations for federal and state policymakers and for higher education institutions. On the federal level, the organizations recommend doubling the Pell Grant to make college more affordable for student parents and raising the federal minimum hourly wage to $20. NASFAA last year called on Congress to double the Pell Grant maximum amount to $13,000 to restore its purchasing power for low- and moderate-income students struggling to meet college costs.

Additionally, they recommend the Department of Education require all Title IV institutions to collect data on student parent status and mandate data reporting annually to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

On the state level, policymakers should support student parents by allotting funding for new or expanded on-campus early child care education programs when appropriating federal funding. States should also prioritize the creation and expansion of more child care options on or near college campuses, the report said.

Higher education institutions should also establish guidelines about who may be considered a student parent, including guardians and caregivers. Additionally, institutions should automate the inclusion of child care expenses as an allowable cost category in determining the cost of attendance, so student parents can qualify for higher amounts of financial aid, the report recommends. 


Publication Date: 8/19/2022

You must be logged in to comment on this page.

Comments Disclaimer: NASFAA welcomes and encourages readers to comment and engage in respectful conversation about the content posted here. We value thoughtful, polite, and concise comments that reflect a variety of views. Comments are not moderated by NASFAA but are reviewed periodically by staff. Users should not expect real-time responses from NASFAA. To learn more, please view NASFAA’s complete Comments Policy.

Related Content

Annual Business Meeting and Policy Update


Policy Update Webinar


View Desktop Version