Five Recommendations for How Community Colleges Can Help Student Parents Succeed
A new Child Trends report funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation features five recommendations for how community colleges can help students who are parents.
The recommendations are based on findings from the first three years of the Expanding Opportunities for Young Families (EOYF) initiative, a five-year Foundation effort that aims to bolster the educational and economic success of young parents.
Five Ways Community Colleges Can Help Young Parents
The report offers five key recommendations for supporting student parents:
- Make college more accessible, with inclusive design and welcoming environments. To better support students who are parents, community colleges must be aware of the demands on students who are pursuing an education while raising a family. To put this into practice, colleges should offer affordable, on-campus child care options, more flexible scheduling that takes parent needs into account and dedicated child- and parent-friendly spaces on campus.
- Connect student parents to the support they need. Student parents have to balance work, school and their family lives. As a result, they often may be unaware of important resources and services to help them thrive. Instead of expecting students to navigate the network of help available to them, community colleges should deploy targeted outreach efforts to ensure student parents are aware of and have access to on-campus programs and policies.
- Keep student parents enrolled by meeting their needs. There are several reasons that parenting students leave college without graduating, such as financial insecurity; lack of access to child care; or difficulty balancing work and school life. To help student parents complete their education, community colleges must ensure their needs are met both as students and as parents. Institutions can do this by collaborating with local governments and nonprofit organizations, drawing on existing resources — such as navigation services — or simplifying access to emergency aid.
- Improve support systems for fathers to reaffirm that they belong. Student parents who are also fathers often feel unwelcome on campus. Available parenting resources at colleges often target mothers, with 61% of fathers who are community college students leaving school without graduating. To better support these students, colleges should create opportunities for peer connection between fathers. Developing marketing materials, special events and spaces on campus that recognize and celebrate fathers as student parents are just a few ways to achieve this.
- Engage parenting students and amplify their voices. Student parents are experts when it comes to their own experiences. Generation Hope’s recent “Our Campus, Our Voice” mini-grants initiative is one model for student-parent-led change at higher education institutions.
By building leadership skills with student parents and involving them in policy and programming discussions, community colleges “will strengthen the impact of all our recommendations, from inclusive design and intentional messaging to comprehensive services and supports for fathers on campus,” the authors note.
Who Are Student Parents?
According to the report, more than one-fifth of all undergraduate students in the United States are parents, and 40% of Black female students are parents. However, given longstanding systemic barriers, such as discriminatory policies and practices and stigmas surrounding young parents, campuses can be particularly unwelcoming to students who have children. Parenting students have a greater need for financial, food and housing assistance and face a higher risk of dropping out of school.
“More and more community colleges are recognizing that parents account for a significant portion of their student body,” says Quanic Fullard, a Casey Foundation senior associate who specializes in two-generation approaches.“The five recommendations in this report offer important guidance for these institutions as they take steps to ensure student parents have the support they need to be successful.”