Reproductive Health and Community College Students: Building Momentum toward Holistic Approaches to Student Success

Reproductive Health and Community College Students: Building Momentum toward Holistic Approaches to Student Success

by Tessa Holtzman, Anna Bernstein, and Lindsey Reichlin Cruse

On July 8-9, 2019 in Washington, DC, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) hosted a convening on expanding reproductive health access for community college students. The convening brought together reproductive health and higher education experts, program leaders, community college representatives, and students to share their strategies and consider new opportunities to improve reproductive health access for the community college population. With over 40 people in attendance, the convening offered a powerful opportunity to discuss the need for greater attention to students’ reproductive health, the role that improved access to family planning information and care could play in students’ outcomes, and how colleges and communities around the country are working to close existing access gaps. This post describes highlights of the convening and foundational principles that emerged from the discussion that can guide future efforts to expand access to reproductive health for community college students.

The Case for Reproductive Health Access for Community College Students

In the absence of supportive services pregnancy and parenthood can diminish a college student’s ability to attend college and succeed once enrolled. Providing students with the resources, including access to affordable contraceptive options and information they need to decide if and when they want to start a family, is key to supporting their postsecondary success. Yet, just half of community colleges have health centers, and, according to IWPR’s research (here and here), many do not provide supports to help students meet their reproductive and sexual health needs.

Recent efforts to improve community college outcomes have increasingly focused on taking a holistic approach to student success. Holistic or wraparound supports can take many forms, from individualized coaching that refers students to on- or off-campus services, such as campus food pantries, emergency aid programs, or child care. As holistic approaches to improving student outcomes are increasingly seen as best practice, ensuring that access to reproductive health services is included in the suite of supports provided to students, either directly or indirectly, is essential.

As holistic approaches to improving student outcomes are increasingly seen as best practice, ensuring that access to reproductive health services is included in the suite of supports provided to students, either directly or indirectly, is essential.

One study estimates that unplanned pregnancy accounts for 10 percent of dropouts among female community college students and 7 percent of dropouts among community college students overall.

College-aged young adults are likely to be sexually active and many do not use birth control or other forms of contraception regularly, or do not have access to the form of contraception they prefer. Community college students want to prevent pregnancy, but often hold misconceptions about birth control and are at higher risk for unintended pregnancy than college students overall. Unmet need for contraception is high among women in community college, with cost and insurance often getting in the way of their ability to use their preferred contraceptive methods. The legacy of reproductive coercion can also effect the ability of community college students of color to access their preferred method of contraceptive care.

 

When students have access to family planning support, however, success is more likely. For example, legal access to contraception and abortion has been historically shown to improve a range of economic outcomes for women, including educational attainment. A 2007 study estimated that by 2000, more than 250,000 women over the age 30 were able to obtain bachelor’s degrees as a result of access to contraception. Ensuring students can access a range of family planning services, including contraception and abortion, and that campuses are family friendly for students who have children, is key to supporting community college students’ health needs and educational aspirations.

Increasing Access to Reproductive Care on Community College Campuses

To move the needle for community college students’ access to reproductive health supports, campuses need a better understanding of the link between reproductive health and student outcomes, along with more information and examples of approaches that help students with their reproductive needs. The convening included programs that are working to increase reproductive health access for college students, including:

  • BAE-B-SAFE, a partnership between Healthy Futures of Texas and Alamo Community Colleges in San Antonio, Texas,
  • The Women’s Fund of Omaha’s Adolescent Health Project, which serves students at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska, and
  • G.I.R.L. (Gathering Information Related to Ladies), a student advocacy group led by African American women from Jackson State University.

A number of community colleges were also represented at the event, including Austin Community College, Miami Dade College, and Pasadena City College, in addition to national groups, such as Power to Decide, National Women’s Law Center, and Young Invincibles.

Several principles emerged from discussions among convening participants and IWPR’s research to guide efforts to integrate reproductive health into colleges’ holistic approaches to student success:

  • Building college & community partnerships. Knowing that many community colleges do not have the capacity to provide direct reproductive health services to students, colleges should build partnerships with community reproductive health providers to facilitate students’ access to care that can meet their reproductive health needs. Referrals to outside services and information on pregnancy and family planning would play an important role in allowing students to plan when, and whether, they want to become pregnant while in college.
  • Providing access to inclusive, safe, and culturally-competent care. As colleges think about how to connect students with reproductive care, they should ensure that the care offered is centered on the needs and preferences of students, and that it is confidential, consistent, accessible, and inclusive of all students, including current parents, students who want to become parents, students who do not want to become parents, and LGBTQ+ students. Services must also be culturally conscious, taking into account disparities in access to reproductive health supports, existing biases in the provision of sexual and reproductive health care, and the impact that the legacy of reproductive coercion may have on the perceptions and experiences of students of color.
  • Making the case for new investments. Messaging about the importance of increasing students’ access to reproductive health services must resonate with students, faculty, staff, and college leadership. For example, explaining the link between access to reproductive health services and improved student outcomes will help make the case to college administrators that investing in greater support for students’ reproductive health needs is worthwhile. More research is needed on students’ needs and the availability of services on community college campuses to strengthen this case and to clarify how colleges can make a measurable difference.
  • Peer-to-peer learning & information sharing. Connecting community college leaders with others who are already working to increase student access to reproductive health care on college campuses can demonstrate the potential for success. Greater communication of current practices in the field can also exemplify the benefits of this work and provide a roadmap for institutions interested in learning more.
  • Building awareness & support. Greater attention to the importance of students’ reproductive lives for college success, and advocacy to increase access to services, is essential to moving the needle forward. Cultivating high-level champions would help raise awareness and build momentum toward integrating reproductive health into holistic support models. The philanthropic community should dedicate their convening power and funding to share best practices and build capacity in the field. Partnerships between student groups on four-year and community college campuses, reproductive health organizing networks, community and reproductive justice activists, and other stakeholders would also help broaden the call for action.

As colleges and higher education experts increasingly understand the role of students’ non-academic lives in their success in higher education, students’ reproductive desires and access to care must be brought into the conversation. By doing more to address the reproductive health needs of community college students, colleges can achieve better and more equitable educational outcomes and contribute to the economic success of students and families.

By doing more to address the reproductive health needs of community college students, colleges can achieve better and more equitable educational outcomes and contribute to the economic success of students and families.

July’s convening was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, as a part of a project designed to raise awareness of the need for reproductive health access as an integral component of community college student success, and strategies that can promote progress. Through this initiative, IWPR is conducting research to: understand efforts to connect community college students with reproductive health care and resources around the country; =identify gaps in access and opportunities to meet existing need; and share promising strategies for expanding community college students’ access to reproductive health information and care. This work is intended to inform and inspire higher education leaders, philanthropists, policymakers, and others to improve access to reproductive health services in community college settings and encourage integration of reproductive health and economic and community development initiatives more broadly. Learn more about this work on IWPR.org.

Voices of Student Parents: “Time is the biggest issue for sure.”

More than one in five college students are parents, but student parents are often under-recognized on college campuses. This blog post is the third in a series highlighting the experiences of student parents, including the challenges they face, and the resources and supports that help them succeed. Find other IWPR resources on student parents at the Student Parent Success Initiative page on IWPR.org.

 

By Felicia

Attends a four-year, private college in Kentucky

Pursuing an undergraduate degree in Child Development

Parent of a nine-year-old

Why I enrolled in school

I wanted to enroll in school because I have always loved school, was always encouraged to do well in school, and I wanted to have a good future. College is a way to have a brighter future for my family. I also want to set a good example for my child by going to college. I expect my child to go to college and complete schooling no matter what. Getting through college despite all the challenges is being a good role model for my child.

College is a way to have a brighter future for my family.

 

What it’s like being a single parent

It has been a struggle, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Do I want to improve things for myself and my peers? Absolutely. However, I have built strong bonds with other student parents at my school by going through this struggle side-by-side with them. It is almost like a club! One situation that keeps presenting a challenge to us is finding child care while our children are sick. How do we go to school and/or work when our child can’t go to school or care programs during times of illness? This is especially a problem for those with jobs with strict requirements or classes with strict attendance policies. Also, if you are a single parent, there is no other parent to stay home with the child. It isn’t even an option. What do you do?

It has been a struggle, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

You calculate how bad missing class will mess up your grade and either take the hit to your grade, or email your professor and pray they let you bring your child to class with you. We are trying to get something done on campus about adding a provision in the attendance policy for student parents with sick children, but nothing has come of this yet.

The costs and benefits of going to school for me and my family

I will be honest: the time away from my child hurts most. I would love to be a stay-at-home mom, but that is not an option for me. Right now, I am a student-mom, a working-outside-the-home-mom, a single-mom, a stressed-out-beyond-belief-mom who doesn’t feel like anything she is doing is working.

Time is the biggest issue for sure.

I am always having to let something slide to meet the demand of something else. Homework takes away quality time with my child, housework takes away time from my homework, class time takes away time from my housework, etc. Something is always slipping. Luckily, I have a great scholarship, so money has mostly been secure for me. There have been financial struggles, but they are probably not the same as others have suffered. Time is the biggest issue for sure. I think school is worthwhile because it only lasts a few years and then I will have the degree forever. It is just hard to do the daily grind.

 

Supports that would be helpful to college success

I would not be able to attend school without child care. It absolutely would not happen. I am now receiving state assistance for child care, so that is wonderful. I think having things be as efficient, convenient, and streamlined as possible makes things doable for student parents. Living close to your school helps, living close to your child’s school helps, having child care as close to campus as possible helps, etc. I would like for the schools to be more accommodating to student parents in things like absences, graduation requirements, etc. It is not always possible for us to do the things other students do.

I would not be able to attend school without child care.

Hopes for after graduation

I want to take a short break and then go on to a graduate school program for Marriage and Family Therapy. I want to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist to help people facing challenges like the ones I have faced in my life.

 

One thing that others might be surprised to know

Homework can’t start until after the kids are in bed! We pull all-nighters for totally different reasons! We can never procrastinate because there’s too much to do.

We can never procrastinate because there’s too much to do.

 

Policy change that could better support student parents’ success

I think all college campuses should have child care for student parents accepted into their colleges for kids ages 0-12. I think having certain work requirements to access state assistance is prohibitive to student parents because they are already in school. For example, my state recently changed the rules for child care assistance to say that full-time students do not have to work 20 hours a week to get assistance. This made all the difference for me.

We make our society healthier, happier, safer, and more functional when we educate mothers.

 

The benefits of investing in student parents

More college students being able to successfully complete their degree programs improves communities by stimulating the economy. When I graduate and become qualified for jobs that pay more, I will no longer need to receive public assistance. I will be paying more taxes that go towards support programs that help others. Also, investing in student parents helps alleviate child poverty, and childhood poverty comes with all sorts of risk factors for other problems later on. We make our society healthier, happier, safer, and more functional when we educate mothers. In addition, children see the benefit of pursuing a college education. Learning becomes a family value that is passed along to the child. The individual child and society gain benefits further down the road.

Learning becomes a family value that is passed along to the child.

Voices of Student Parents: “Since most of my classes were only offered at night I struggled to find care for my son”

More than one in five college students are parents, but student parents are often under-recognized on college campuses. This blog post is the second in a series highlighting the experiences of student parents, including the challenges they face, and the resources and supports that help them succeed. Find other IWPR resources on student parents at the Student Parent Success Initiative page on IWPR.org.

 

By Cecilia Contreras-Mendez

Washington State University in Vancouver, Washington

June 2019 graduate of Clark Community College

Majors: Dual bachelor’s degrees in Public Affairs and Social Sciences with minors in Spanish, Sociology, Criminal Justice, and Political Science. I received my associate’s degree in Arts and transferred to my current institution with a Direct Transfer Agreement.

Number of Children and age: I have one child, Raul Jose Barasa Jr., who is 13 ½ years old.

 

Why I enrolled in school

In the beginning of 2008, I was laid off from my full-time job during the housing

recession. Forced to live off unemployment checks of about $850 a month, my rent was more than 80% of my income. I had one option for a better life– seek higher education. Making a choice I thought I’d never make, I decided that community college was my best shot at providing a proper life for my child. Being a single mom, I got lucky with the job I had, and I knew I would never make that much money again without a college degree. In September 2008, I enrolled at the community college as a first-generation college student, single mom, and woman of color.

As a single mother, I didn’t have much choice after losing my job. There was no child support coming in and I knew I had to set an example for my boy. Things needed to change, and I knew I could accomplish my goals. I knew my options and I took a chance, and it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my life. Losing my job allowed me to return to school and showed me my true potential and my calling in life.

First off, pursuing higher education allows me to set an example for my child and second, it allows me to seek a better life for my family. I grew up in poverty raised by a single immigrant mother with little to no education herself. Education was key for me to break the cycle of poverty. My son’s life was dependent on my actions and my choices, so I had to choose wisely.

“My son’s life was dependent on my actions and my choices, so I had to choose wisely.”

Higher education wasn’t my priority after graduating high school with my 6 month old son, but I knew if I could do it back then, then why not now. Education is an opportunity to better myself and secure a better future for my son and we can only lead by example!

 

Balancing school, parenting, and life

For about 11 years now, I have been going to school on and off, having left and returned to school five different times. On top of being a single mom and going to school full-time, I’ve also had to deal with some medical issues. It was a challenge, but I had to make the sacrifice and hold on. I wasn’t about to give up on my son or my education just because life got hard, and I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way. I was the only reliable and stable parent my child had and school was our only income.

Being a student and a parent is a roller coaster ride! We had our ups and we had our downs. My son knew we were a team, and something had to give – in my situation, it was my home. Being a parent was a full-time job, being a student was my second full-time job, and doing it all alone while life threw rocks at me was a challenge. My car broke down multiple times leaving me to rely on public transportation in the rain, snow, heat, and all in between. Financial aid just wasn’t enough to fix life’s little emergencies.

Financial aid just wasn’t enough to fix life’s little emergencies.

Every student parent has their own motivation, their own strengths, their own story, and most importantly their own way to parent their child. We all experience life differently but my experience was rough in the beginning when my child was younger. As he grew older it got easier, until I needed to go to night classes. I was shocked that there wasn’t child care at night for my child while I was in school. That really stood out to me and was a challenge because I didn’t feel like the college officials thought about student parents when they scheduled these night classes into their program.

I didn’t feel like the college officials thought about student parents when they scheduled these night classes into their program.

As a student parent, there was little to no help with finding scholarships and determining what major or what degree I should be pursuing. When I first started, I felt alone and confused as I didn’t really have parents to guide me nor did I know any of the school’s resources. They are getting better these days but it’s still quite confusing when you are a student with little to no knowledge of the higher education system.

 

Supports and resources that have helped me balance school and parenting

When my child was younger, the biggest help I got as a single student parent were the Head Start program and child care center on my community college’s campus. Those resources were life savers! Honestly, Washington State’s SNAP food assistance program isn’t geared to help full-time student parents; if we go to school full-time, they still want us to work at least 20 hours a week just to get food benefits. For some it’s possible, but what about the parents with multiple children? How are we supposed to spend time with our kids as we are trying to get educated if we also have to meet these work requirements? We get penalized for trying to go to school. It would be great if we had better options for food assistance or for help with food resources. It is hard to go to school full time and finish fast in order to get our careers rolling when we have strict guidelines about how much we need to work, just because we are trying to feed our kids.

 

The costs and benefits of going to school for me and my family

Education is important to me, you just need to find a balance for life to run smoothly. As I learned to balance life, having a toddler, and juggling school, time-management was my friend.

Financial aid never seemed like enough to last us the whole quarter. In my case, I had to appeal to the Financial Aid Office to continue receiving funds and towards the end I ended up paying for half of my degree out of pocket. That was hard, but a sacrifice I was willing to make for my family’s future.

When I couldn’t afford to pay for my tuition, I made the impossible possible. If I had to sell the couch I sat on, I would in an effort to pay for my tuition. That’s how much my education meant to me. My son saw me make these sacrifices to get educated and the cost was heavy and very difficult at times. I shed lots of tears and prayed many prayers but never gave up! My son has always come first in my life and he makes it worthwhile at the end of the day! My son is my hero, my motivation, my strength, my reason to strive, and the reason I do everything I do! He looks up to me and supports my educational decisions and works just as hard at school too! What kind of mother would I be if I did not teach him how important education is?

When I couldn’t afford to pay for my tuition, I made the impossible possible. If I had to sell the couch I sat on, I would in an effort to pay for my tuition. That’s how much my education meant to me. My son saw me make these sacrifices to get educated and the cost was heavy and very difficult at times

Hopes for after graduation

I want to practice law at a non-profit organization that helps all people. Particularly, I’d like to be working on issues around social inequality, poverty, and immigration. I want to be a voice for those who have been silenced and seek justice. I want to be that lawyer that the people can trust and reach out to. Ideally, I would love to work with justice-involved and impacted youth to help guide them towards a second chance in life. The more people I can help, the more my sacrifice will be worth it.

The more people I can help, the more my sacrifice will be worth it.

One thing that others might be surprised to know

I am a single student parent who is disabled and battling six auto-immune diseases and disorders. I want my leadership skills to define me, not my disability. Just because our bodies are differently abled doesn’t mean that we can’t learn or be educated just like everyone else. Battling against my own body, I have persevered and triumphed over every obstacle I encounter.

Policy change at your institution that could better support student parents’ success

My community college could have offered child care at night. Since most of my classes were only offered at night, I really struggled to find care for my son, and was forced to change my major because of it.

Since most of my classes were only offered at night, I really struggled to find care for my son

On the financial aid side, I was only given 2 or 3 appeals to reinstate my funds after losing my aid due to my medical conditions. This was very difficult, and I was forced to pay out of pocket for more than half of my degree. There should be more opportunities and supports for students like me to be successful.

My community college had excellent staff members that offered free workshops to ensure our success. Staff also had fun events throughout the year that helped take the pressure off of school to give us some fun on campus. These school events gave me hope and gave me something to look forward to in between classes and quarters. Staff members went above and beyond to make sure I received the services I qualified for, like accommodations through disability services and tutoring.

 

Policy change that could better support student parents’ success

At the national level – I would say changes are needed with services like the SNAP food assistance program. If we go to school full-time and have multiple children, we shouldn’t be required or forced to work in addition to already holding one full-time job as single parents. It is very difficult for those who have multiple children and sometimes in the end it is not worth losing time with them. We work half the day and go to school most of the day in an effort to feed and support our children – leaving us to question, when do we get time to see our kids?

At other levels – Having child care at night and in the evening would benefit a lot of students who are parents. After-school and summer programs shouldn’t be cut because some of us depend on those programs for our school-aged children. There needs to be more funding for these programs.

The benefits of investing in student parents

If we had more support for both child care and/or scholarships, we would have more educated student parents, allowing children to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Offering the resources that many student parents seek but can’t find could relieve a lot of stress and give us piece of mind.

In the end, we would invest in our children and have a more well-rounded society surrounding us. When investing in any type of educational programs for parents and/or their children, we are essentially saving money if we, as student parents, guide our children to follow in our footsteps and seek higher education. As student parents teach their children that education is key, we are able to shine light into their soul and once we light that fire, who knows where it will go or what they will achieve.

 

Voices of Student Parents: “I have a responsibility to keep paving the path for those that come behind me”

More than one in five college students are parents, but student parents are often under-recognized on college campuses. This blog post is the first in a series highlighting the experiences of student parents, including the challenges they face, and the resources and supports that help them succeed. Find other IWPR resources on student parents at the Student Parent Success Initiative page on IWPR.org.

student

By Naomi Ambriz

University of New Mexico

Ph.D. program in American Studies

Parent of a 21 month old child

Why I enrolled in school

Going to graduate school, much less pursuing a Ph.D., was something I never envisioned for myself. I struggled as an undergraduate and left the university after my first semester. Seven years later, I finally returned and completed my bachelor’s degree. I was raised in South Central Los Angeles by first-generation immigrant parents, and for my family, education has always been a route out of poverty. Influenced by a strong and caring mother and four sisters, education for me is not only upward mobility, but is what allows me to discover and explore a world beyond the one right in front of me. Being the fifth child of seven, I was expected to get at least a bachelor’s degree since four of my siblings had received theirs. It was not until I started working for the University of California that my trajectory towards graduate school began. Working and supporting students and faculty at a research university not only gave me insight into how academia works, but showed me how academic institutions can serve as spaces to challenge and interrogate systems of oppression. I also personally witnessed the impact that education and mentoring had on students and the community as a founding member of the Social Justice Initiative.

Education for me is not only upward mobility, but is what allows me to discover and explore a world beyond the one right in front of me.

What it’s like being a student parent

Being a student and having the added responsibility of caring for a child often reminds me not to take time for granted. Although I have set deadlines for my research work, I have to be flexible when unpredictable things happen. For example, sometimes I need to take time off when my son gets sick. The other important thing is to remind myself to have fun and do some self-care (whether that is doing yoga or taking a bath while my son sleeps) to recharge. As student parents, it is easy to forget to take care of ourselves, especially while caring for others on top of daily survival pressures. The financial costs of graduate school, including not having a decent salary, have been an added stress. Fortunately, student loans and fellowships have been enormously helpful during the past few years. I’ve also been grateful for work outside of my Ph.D. research. For example, working at the Women’s Resource Center has helped offset my living costs. At the same time, working there means I get to do work that I am devoted to. This upcoming academic year, my role at the Women’s Resource Center will be the Student Parent Advocate. I hope to not only advocate for student parents on campus, but to create greater visibility for other student parents who find themselves feeling isolated at the university.

As student parents, it is easy to forget to take care of ourselves, especially while caring for others on top of daily survival pressures.

Balancing school, parenting, and life

Finding a balance between parenting, school, and other life commitments has been an ongoing process. I had my son during my third year of graduate school. Becoming a mother while taking and teaching classes was a challenge. My son was born in early November, a month before the end of the semester, which made it even more difficult. Luckily, my professors gave me extensions for my finals and I graded student’s final papers while my son slept. Although some days are easier than others, having the adequate community support is essential. Having access to a daycare, professors that are understanding and willing to accommodate my schedule, and community members offering to babysit, has greatly facilitated child rearing and my professional development. Not to sound cliché but it really does take a village to raise a child. I also try to use my time wisely. For example, to fit in exercise, I bike and run to drop-off and pick-up my son from daycare. When he’s taking his afternoon nap, I catch up on schoolwork. I make sure to dedicate the later part of the day to him.

Supports and resources that have helped me balance school and parenting

My son is enrolled half time at the campus daycare, which is not only very accessible, but affords me peace of mind because I know that he is being well taken care of. I’m in the comprehensive exam stage of my Ph.D., which means that I no longer have classes to attend. I use the hours that my son is at daycare to focus on my research project. In addition, working at the Women’s Resource Center allows me to stay informed and connected with the campus community, particularly other student parents in similar situations. Partnering with other student parents to have study sessions while our children play has also been rewarding. The Lobo Parenting Cubs, a student parent organization which focuses on creating community and networking opportunities for student parents, have dedicated space on campus with computers, printers, and space for children to play. The children’s campus also offers a study room and extended childcare as well, which I often use.

Supports that would be helpful to college success

One thing that I currently lack access to is family housing for students because of limited space. My monthly rent takes up a big portion of my budget and having a place that was more affordable and closer to campus would be ideal. In addition, not being able to afford a babysitter is also challenging. Although I am lucky to have a community member offer her time to babysit for me one day a week, I could definitely use a more frequent babysitter at home so that I can work. My family resides in another state, which makes it very difficult to ask them to babysit.

It would also be wonderful if my school could allocate scholarships to student parents and provide accessible childcare (right now, there is a 1,500 person waitlist). Currently, in my student advocate position, I am working with both the children’s campus (daycare) and the financial aid department to distribute a survey to student parents in hopes of better serving their needs. We’re also inviting university administrators to student parent events in hopes of creating more visibility towards a family friendly university. In fact, I recently learned that our university has a high percentage of student parents; about 1 in 4 students are parents. I believe that we need to change the narrative and stigma around student parenting and make universities more welcoming to student parents. The reality is that many of our student parents are struggling and bringing awareness to this reality is essential. I believe that it is the university’s responsibility and mission to provide adequate resources and opportunities. The last few years, the University of New Mexico has seen a decrease in enrollment from local students. If more resources were implemented to encourage students and student parents to enroll, in particular, have decent incentives that retain and graduate students from the university in a timely manner without accruing so much debt, perhaps more New Mexicans would come to UNM.

The costs and benefits of going to school for me and my family

Being able to do something I love, such as research and working with students, is something that I don’t take for granted. According to the statistics, 1.6 percent of Latinas pursue a Ph.D. in the U.S. This means that I am not only fortunate to be pursuing a doctorate degree, but that I have a responsibility to keep paving the path for those that come behind me, just as the ones that came before me have done. In terms of costs, yes, I’m in debt with loans (even after having paid all my undergrad loans!), but I know that the time and flexibility I get to have raising my son, especially as a single parent, is invaluable. Nourishing and influencing his upbringing doesn’t compare to my monetary loss. Luckily, I get assistance from the state with food and my graduate assistantships and extra job appointments help pay rent and other living expenses. In the end, when I complete my Ph.D., I envision myself making a decent salary and recovering from the monetary losses.

I have a responsibility to keep paving the path for those that come behind me, just as the ones that came before me have done.

Hopes for after graduation

Ideally, I would like to get a postdoc and/or tenure track position at a university or community college since I would like to continue teaching and conducting research. It is hard not to see myself connected to a university in one way or another; I really enjoy teaching and research.

One thing that others might be surprised to know

I am an intimate partner violence survivor and lost my mother to cancer 14 years ago.

Policy change that could better support student parents’ success

Provide automatic financial support for incoming students parents, offer subsidized loans or a pardon for student loans for graduate student parents that have to take on debt in order to pursue a graduate degree. In a utopian society, debt free education would make it much easier to balance school and family.

The benefits of investing in student parents

Investing in someone’s education is the best investment because it helps to make our communities and society a better place. In other words, education not only benefits the individual but society as a whole. If student parents were less stressed about child care and financial burdens, because they had more supports, these students could dedicate more of their energy towards graduating on time and therefore join the workforce. Put simply, when we invest in education today, we invest in future generations as well.

When we invest in education today, we invest in future generations as well.  

Not Just Equal Pay: The U.S. Women’s National Team’s Fight Underscores How an Equitable Economy Can Work for Everyone

USWNT Blog Graphic

By Mia Ogorchock, graphic by Nic Martinez

In the buzz surrounding the World Cup triumph of the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT), “equal pay” has become a rallying cry, not just for the team, but for their fans. In March of this year, the USWNT filed a gender-discrimination suit against the United States Soccer Federation, Inc., citing unequal pay, training, and travel conditions, compared with the men’s team, despite bringing in higher revenue–and winning more games. Their fight is part of a bigger movement of women across industries advocating for better pay and safer workplaces, while confronting inadequate or outdated economic policies that shape how we live and work.

Women still make about 80.5 cents to every male dollar per year and the gap is even larger for women of color. Based on current trends, IWPR projects that women overall will not achieve pay equity until 2059, while Black women will wait one century (until 2119) and Hispanic women will wait more than two centuries (until 2224) until they reach equity with White men’s earnings.

As the USWNT begins their victory tour around the country, here is a look at the gender-equity policies that would not only narrow the gender wage gap, but would reconfigure the economy to work better for everyone.

Valuing Women’s Work

The call for equal pay for the USWNT—and for all women—has been echoed in op-eds in major news outlets and invoked by 2020 candidates, many of whom have made it a centerpiece to their platforms. For good reason: while there was significant progress in narrowing the wage gap in the 1980s and 1990s as more women entered the workforce and gained entry to many fields and jobs they had previously been excluded from, progress over the last two decades stalled. Women today still earn less than men in nearly every single occupation for which there is enough data to calculate the wage gap.

Researchers find that over half of the wage gap can be explained by occupational segregation: women and men tend to work in different jobs and the jobs men tend to do pay more. The segregation is stark—four in ten (39 percent) working women work in female-dominated occupations and nearly half of men (48 percent) work in male-dominated occupations—and widespread, from staggering wage gaps in top-paying fields to greater concentration in jobs that pay poverty-level wages.

This segregation also affects how the economy values “women’s work.” Low-wage, female-dominated jobs pay less than male-dominated low-wage work, even when women’s jobs are very similar in requirements for education, skills, and stamina: janitors (two-thirds men) make $12.13 per hour, while maids and housekeepers (nearly 90 percent women) make $9.94 per hour. Furthermore, those who perform low-wage women’s work are about twice as likely to have a college degree than workers in male-dominated occupations—yet earn less. As jobs of the future become more digitalized, the trends are concerning: despite being more likely to work with computers and digital media than men, women face a 41 percent earnings gap on returns for their digital skills.

With half of U.S. families having a female breadwinner, the undervaluation of women’s work has real consequences for families, communities, and the economy as a whole. Pay parity would cut poverty in half for working families and add nearly half a trillion dollars in additional wage and salary income to the U.S. economy.

The disconnect between women’s skills and contributions and the gender gap in earnings is paralleled by the USWNT: while the team has qualified for (and won) multiple World Cups, the men’s team famously failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The men’s team is paid more for the games they win in the tournament, despite bringing in less revenue than the USWNT.

Improving Access to Paid Leave and Child Care Would Help Narrow the Wage Gap

In addition to ensuring that women have access to good jobs and high-paying fields, strengthening women’s attachment to the labor force is also key to narrowing the wage gap. We know from a large body of research that improving access to paid leave and affordable child care improves women’s labor force participation, which can in turn improve their earnings.

The earnings penalties for those who take time out of the labor force are high and increasing. For women, who still disproportionately shoulder the burden of care in their families, the effect can be a huge blow to the pocketbook: women who took just one year off during a 15-year period earned 39 percent less than women who did not take any time away from the paid labor force. That is why the gender wage gap as traditionally reported understates pay inequality: women make just half of what men make over a 15-year period

Many working families and single mothers lack access to paid family leave or childcare. Here too, we see parallels with the USWNT’s story: Jessica McDonald, the only mother on the US Women’s National team, has cited issues with paying for child care, including working several jobs at a time to pay for expensive childcare for her son. McDonald’s—and other working mothers’—ability to pursue a fulfilling job and provide for her family relies on being able to access and afford child care. Too many women are unable to do so: women are nine in ten of the workers who cut back paid work to care for children or family members.

As the experiences of the USWNT remind us, equal pay is not just about being paid the same—although that would help. Fighting for pay equality is about fighting for things like access to good jobs, investment in training and supports such as paid leave, child care, and other gender-equity policies that would improve the  economy and reduce inequality for everyone.

Research News Roundup

RESEARCH MAKING THE NEWS

Here’s the effect a $15 minimum wage has on jobs and poverty in low-income areas, according to a new study from Berkeley

James Wellemeyer │││July 9, 2019

A $15 an hour minimum wage won’t slash jobs in low-income areas, according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, and it will also help to reduce poverty.

The study, conducted by Anna Godoey and Michael Reich, economists at UC Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, suggests that a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024would not reduce employment rates, weekly hours worked, or annual weeks worked. The study notes that $15 an hour in 2024 is roughly equivalent to $13 an hour today.

Citing: “Minimum Wage Effects in Low-Wage Areas” by Anna Godoy and Michael Reich at Institute for Research on Labor and EmploymentJuly 2, 2019.

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60% of Tech Workers Told Not To Discuss Pay, Making Gender Gap Harder To Spot

Kim Elsesser │ │ July 11, 2019

According to the survey conducted by Blind, an anonymous social network for discussing workplace issues, 60% of the 5,149 respondents say that they have been discouraged by their human resources department or management from discussing salary information. And the situation isn’t changing much over time. Last year, a similar Blind survey also found that about 60% of employees had been discouraged from sharing data.

Citing: “Over 60% in Tech Told Not To Discuss Salary” by Curie Kim at BlindJuly 10, 2019

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Robots Are Coming for Our Jobs. Here’s Why Women Should be Even More Prepared

Khalida Sarwari │ │ July 17, 2019

As many as 160 million women around the world could lose their jobs over the next decade because of the impact of automation, and a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute shows that women will have a harder time adjusting to the automation of jobs and development of artificial intelligence than men.

Citing: “The Future of Women at Work: Transitions in the Age of Automation” at McKinsey Global Institute, June, 2019

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Women are Now Seen as Equally Intelligent as Men, Study Finds

Alia E. Dastagir│  │ July 18, 2019

In the last 70 years, some gender stereotypes about women have shifted dramatically, while others remain firmly rooted, according to new research published in the American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association. The meta-analysis of 16 public opinion polls totaling more than 30,000 U.S. adults from 1946 to 2018 looked at three traits: competence (intelligence, creativity), communion (compassion, sensitivity) and agency (ambition, aggression).

Citing: “Gender Stereotypes Have Changed: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of U.S. Public Opinion Polls From 1946 to 2018” by Alice H. Eagly, Christa Nater, David I. Miller, Michèle Kaufmann, and Sabine Sczesny at American Psychologist Association, July, 2018

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New Technology Sparks More Worry for Black and Hispanic Workers

Jeff Green │  │July 24, 2019

Technology is definitely changing the workplace. Perspectives on whether that’s an opportunity or a threat depend a lot on racial identity, according to a new survey of 2,000 workers released Wednesday. Black and Hispanic workers are more concerned about new technology in the workplace compared with white or Asian workers, according to the survey. They were also less likely to say they saw efficiency gains.

Citing: “Racial Differences on the Future of Work: A Survey of the American Workforce” by Ismail White at Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, July 24, 2019

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NEW RESEARCH REPORTS

The Economic Effects of Abortion Access: A Review of the Evidence

Anna Bernstein and Kelly Jones │ Institute for Women’s Research │ July 18, 2019

This report reviews the available evidence of the economic effects of abortion access. By synthesizing high-quality research that estimates causal effects, this review highlights the relationship between abortion access and a number of economic outcomes, including women’s educational attainment, labor force participation, and other socioeconomic indicators for the next generation of men and women.

This report focuses on U.S.-based evidence, most of which relies on policy changes in the 1970s, but also includes a brief review of international evidence and an examination of the fertility effects of more recent changes to abortion access. The report closes with a discussion on policy implications, conclusions, and areas for future research, given the evidence on the causal relationship between abortion access and economic outcomes.

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Minimum Wage Effects in Low-Wage Areas

Anna Godoey and Michael Reich │Institute for Research on Labor and Employment │ July 2, 2019

A proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024 would increase the relative minimum wage – the ratio to the national median wage– to about .68. In Alabama and Mississippi, our two lowest-wage states, the relative minimum wage would rise to .77 and .85, respectively. Yet research on state-level minimum wage policies does not extend beyond $10; the highest studied state-level relative minimum wage is .59. To close this gap we study minimum wage effects in counties and PUMAs where relative minimum wage ratios already reach as high as .82. Using ACS data since 2005 and 51 events, we sort counties and PUMAs according to their relative minimum wages and bites. We report average results for all the events in our sample, and separately for those with lower and higher impacts. We find positive wage effects but do not detect adverse effects on employment, weekly hours or annual weeks worked.

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Feasibility Study and Evaluation of Non-Traditional Occupation Demonstrations

Carolyn Corea Luke Patterson, Manan Roy, and Neha Nanda │ United State Department of Labor│ July 28, 2019

The impact study found statistically significant positive effects in South Seattle on outcomes 2 (clicked on a link in an email) and 3 (completed an interest form). In New Mexico, the evaluation team observed a change in magnitude and direction of the impact estimates from negative and statistically significant for outcome 1 (opened the email) to nearly zero for outcome 3.1 Completion rates for the two exploratory outcomes—outcomes 4 (looked for more information) and 5 (enrolled in the program)—were low overall in the two demonstration sites as well as for both treatment and control groups within sites.

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The Future is Ours: Women, Automation and Equality in the Digital Age

Carys Roberts Henry Parkes, Rachel Statham, and Lesley Rankin │Institute for Public Policy Research │June 16, 2019

Automation will produce significant productivity gains that will reshape specific sectors and occupations. These gains are likely to be recirculated, with jobs reallocated rather than eliminated, economic output increased, and new sources of wealth created. The problem is likely to be one of how income and wealth are distributed. Automation could create a ‘paradox of plenty’: society would be far richer in aggregate, but, for many individuals and communities, technological change could reinforce inequalities of power and reward.

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Are Marriage-Related Taxes and Social Security Benefits Holding Back Female Labor Supply?

Margherita Borella, Mariacristina De Nardi, Fang Yang│ The National Bureau of Economic Research│ July, 2019

In the U.S., both taxes and old age Social Security benefits depend on one’s marital status and tend to discourage the labor supply of the secondary earner. To what extent are these provisions holding back female labor supply? We estimate a rich life-cycle model of labor supply and savings for couples and singles using the Method of Simulated Moments (MSM) on the 1945 and 1955 birth-year cohorts and we use it to evaluate what would happen without these provisions. Our model matches well the life cycle profiles of labor market participation, hours, and savings for married and single people and generates plausible elasticities of labor supply. Eliminating marriage-related provisions drastically increases the participation of married women over their entire life cycle, reduces the participation of married men after age 55, and increases the savings of couples in both cohorts, including the later one, which has similar participation to that of more recent generations. If the resulting government surplus were used to lower income taxation, there would be large welfare gains for the vast majority of the population.

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A Unified Welfare Analysis of Government Policies

Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser│ Opportunity Insights │July 2019

We conduct a comparative welfare analysis of 133 historical policy changes over the past half-century in the United States, focusing on policies in social insurance, education and job training, taxes and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers. For each policy, we use existing causal estimates to calculate both the benefit that each policy provides its recipients (measured as their willingness to pay) and the policy’s net cost, inclusive of long-term impacts on the government’s budget. We divide the willingness to pay by the net cost to the government to form each policy’s Marginal Value of Public Funds, or it’s “MVPF”. Comparing MVPFs across policies provides a unified method of assessing their impact on social welfare.

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Candidates’ “Free College” Proposals Must be More Inclusive of College Students with Children. Here’s How.

Candidates’ “Free College” Proposals Must be More Inclusive of College Students with Children. Here’s How.

This blog was produced in collaboration with The Education Trust. Click here to view the original post.


More than half of the 2020 presidential candidates support some version of “free college” as a strategy to combat the rising cost of college. Whether or not “free college” is a part of the solution, candidates, policymakers, and college leaders must do more to consider the experiences of student parents, who represent nearly 4 million undergraduates in the United States and who sit at the intersection of the college equity, affordability, and access challenges facing this country today.

Any strategies to make college more affordable should include a focus on equity. How do students who are most affected by the college affordability crisis — including students with children, low-income students, students of color, and adult students — fare in plans to establish “free college” programs? Who will benefit from these plans and who will be excluded? How will they work to alleviate existing student debt and prevent excessive borrowing moving forward—and for whom?

The national conversation about making college free is growing in prominence, and many institutions, higher education systems, and states are implementing their own free college policies, which can be loosely defined as federal, state, or local programs that cover at least tuition and fees for some or all students based on certain eligibility rules. In May 2019, for example, the Workforce Education Investment Act was signed into law in Washington State, providing free or reduced tuition for middle- and low-income students attending community colleges and public institutions. Just two months later, the University of Texas at Austin joined other institutions by providing full tuition for Texas families making $65,000 or less per year.

Proposals to establish free college vary widely by presidential candidate. Senators WarrenHarrisSanders, and Gillibrand, for example, support free (or debt-free) college tuition and fees across all public four- and two-year institutions, while former Vice President BidenJulian Castro, and Senator Klobuchar support covering tuition and fees at community colleges. Some candidates, such as Mayor Pete Buttigieg, suggest making college free for students with the lowest incomes, while others (like Senators Warren and Gillibrand) support a program for which all students could be eligible. As candidates’ platforms continue to develop, they should keep student parents — whose caregiving and financial demands make affordable college essential to their ability to enroll and succeed — in mind. Free college programs rarely include assistance with living expenses and child care costs, for example, expenses which student parents must cover to continue in school. (Introduced last week, Senator Harris’s BASIC Act proposal would help higher education institutions meet basic, non-tuition needs—including child care—of their students.)

Student parents should be included in conversations about college affordability, given that they make up almost a quarter (22 percent) of all undergraduates and are more likely to be students of color (51 percent) and women (70 percent). Including student parents in the college affordability conversation is vital to achieving key educational, social, and economic equity goals. For instance, student parents often struggle with poverty while in school (68 percent live in or near poverty), and have more than 2.5 times more debt than students without children. One in three Black students are parents, the most of any racial/ethnic group, and their average undergraduate debt — $18,100 in 2015-16 — is higher than that of student parents or non-parents of every other racial/ethnic background.

Free college programs can play an integral role in meeting key workforce and economic demands, especially when they intentionally include underserved student populations, such as student parents and other working adults, who might otherwise bypass college or leave school before earning a credential that can help them earn a better living. At least 16 of the current presidential candidates come from states that have set educational attainment goals that commit to dramatically increasing the number of adults with college or workforce credentials by a target date in the 2020s. If candidates hope to help states meet or exceed these goals, they must put forward plans that actively recruit and serve students with family, work, and financial commitments.

Busy mom working at desk with young daughterAs candidates, policymakers, and college leaders develop plans to tackle college affordability, here are a few ways that they can be sure to include student parents in their solutions:

  1. Reevaluate eligibility rules that can restrict student parents’ ability to participate in free college or other programs aimed at making college more affordable. Restrictive eligibility rules include those that limit participation to younger students or recent high school graduates, or to students who can enroll full-time. Transparency around eligibility rules, participation requirements, and the full cost of attendance must also be central.
  2. Make programs be first-dollar programs so that students can cover non-tuition costs, such as the cost of child care, family housing, food, and transportation.
  3. Ensure that free college programs encourage institutions to be transparent about the true cost of college, and the return on students’ investment of time and resources. For families and other working adults, knowing that enrolling in college will lead to a degree that will result in a family-sustaining wage is essential.
  4. Include additional supportive services — such as advising on career paths and appropriate courses to achieve desired credentials, intensive coaching both in school and at jobs during and after education is complete, emergency aid, and other specific needs student parents may have—in program design to set students up for success and ensure they can meet their basic needs while pursuing education.

Many students, including student parents, stand to gain from free college programs, as long as these programs are accessible to them. Without intentional access for student parents, free college programs could end up exacerbating some of the inequities they aim to address. Student parents are ready and motivated to succeed in college (student parents achieve higher GPAs than other students), but policymakers, including those running for the most visible policymaking position in the country, must do more to include and support them.