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.

Research News Roundup – July 2019

RESEARCH MAKING THE NEWS 

Policy Research: College Promise Programs Are Excluding Student Parents

Pearl Stewart ││ June 27, 2019

Twenty percent of college students in the United States are raising children, yet the much-touted “free college” initiatives, also known as Promise programs, often “unintentionally exclude” these students when offering financial support, according to a briefing paper released this week by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

The institute’s analysis pointed out various restrictions and requirements in the college Promise programs that exclude students who may be most in need of support. Among the more than 300 college Promise programs in 44 states, the majority exclude students over the age of 25 – making many students who have started families ineligible for Promise financial assistance, the Washington-based policy institute reported.

Citing: Making “Free College” Programs Work for College Students with Children by Tessa Hotlzman, Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, and Barbara Gault at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, June 25, 2019

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Report: Women’s Health Could Be Improved by Medicaid Expansion, Rural Health Investments

Johanna Cano│  │June 26, 2019

The report, completed by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), analyzes data on women’s health including chronic disease, physical health and sexual health, among other indicators. [….] “While this report is called the ‘Status of Women,’ we know that improving the health and wellness of women in our state is not just a women’s issue, but rather an issue that is creating healthier families and communities, contributing to a stronger and healthier workforce and helping to grow the state’s economy,” said Machelle Sanders, N.C. Department of Administration secretary.

The report found that the health of women in the state has improved in some areas since a previous 2013 report, but in other areas, it has remained the same or worsened, particularly in rural counties, Sanders said.

Citing: Status of Women in North Carolina: Health and Wellness by Elyse Shaw and Adiam Tesfaselassie at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, June 25, 2019

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The Problem with Diversity in Computing

Ian Bogost ││ June 25, 2019.

At Google, for example, more than 95 percent of technical workers are white or Asian. Adding more black engineers from Atlanta schools to that mix will certainly help push the numbers up incrementally. It will also give more people of color access to the economic opportunities the tech industry offers. But there’s a risk of tokenization; inviting a black man or a curly-haired woman into the room could make a difference in the design of the systems that produced Webb’s experience at airport security. But it probably won’t substantially change the thrust of the tech industry as it currently operates.

Citing: Google Diversity Annual report 2019 at Google

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Lack of Medicaid Coverage Blocked 29 Percent of Abortion Seekers from Getting the Procedure, Study Says

Anna North ││ June 20, 2019

But amid this debate, there’s been a lack of up-to-date research on what actually happens to pregnant people when they want an abortion but their insurance won’t cover it. To answer that question, researchers at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a group at the University of California San Francisco, surveyed pregnant women in Louisiana on whether they had ever considered abortion. For those who considered the procedure but didn’t have one, researchers asked if lack of Medicaid coverage was part of the reason why. The research, published on Wednesday in the journal BMC Women’s Health, was provided to Vox exclusively ahead of publication.

Citing: Estimating the proportion of Medicaid-Eligible Pregnant Women in Louisiana Who Do Not Get Abortion When Medicaid Does Not Cover Abortion by Sarah Roberts, Nicole Johns, Valerie Williams, Erin Wingo and Ushma Upadhyay at BMC Women’s Health, May, 2019

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No Rest for the Workers: How the US is Out of Step on Paid Leave

Mona Chalabi ││ June 18, 2019

Of the 21 wealthiest countries, the US is the only one not to guarantee workers paid leave, according to a recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research which dubbed it “no vacation nation”.

Citing: No-Vacation Nation, Revised by Adewale Maye at Center for Economic and Policy Research, May, 2019.

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NEW RESEARCH REPORTS

A Women-Centered Economic Agenda: 8 Policies that Boost the Economy and Work for Everyone

Elyse Shaw and Heidi Hartmann │Institute for Women’s Policy Research│ June 20, 2019

Ensuring that a growing economy is equitable and benefits all workers is an important policy priority for all elected officials. Given that women’s earnings and economic security are central to the health and well-being of U.S. households and the overall economy, each election cycle presents an opportunity to highlight the policies that would help women have access to the jobs and benefits workers need to ensure economic security for themselves and their families.

This fact sheet outlines eight key policy priorities that are critical for increasing women’s economic opportunities and securing their futures.

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Access to Paid Sick Time in Bernalillo County, New Mexico

Kimberly Mckee, Jeff Hayes and Jessica Milli│ Institute for Women’s Policy Research │June 18, 2019

Approximately 35 percent of workers living in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, lack paid sick time, and among those, low-income and part-time workers are especially unlikely to be covered. Access to paid sick time promotes safe and healthy work environments by reducing the spread of illness and preventing workplace injuries. It also reduces health care costs and supports children and families by helping parents to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities. This briefing paper presents estimates of access to paid sick time in Bernalillo County by sex, race and ethnicity, occupation, part/full-time employment status, and personal earnings through analysis of government data sources, including the 2015–2017 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS).

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Paid Family Leave and Breastfeeding: Evidence from California

Jessica Pac, Ann Bartel, Christopher Ruhm & Jane Waldfogel | The National Bureau of Economics Research | April 2019

This paper evaluates the effect of Paid Family Leave (PFL) on breastfeeding, which we identify using California’s enactment of a 2004 PFL policy that ensured mothers up to six weeks of leave at a 55 percent wage replacement rate. We employ synthetic control models for a large, representative sample of over 270,000 children born between 2000 and 2012 drawn from the restricted-use versions of the 2003 – 2014 National Immunization Surveys. Our estimates indicate that PFL increases the overall duration of breastfeeding by nearly 18 days, and the likelihood of breastfeeding for at least six months by 5 percentage points. We find substantially larger effects of PFL on breastfeeding duration for some disadvantaged mothers.

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Young Workers in Nonstandard Work Arrangements, 2005-2017

Aaron Medlin and Hye Jin Rho │ Center for Economic and Policy Research │June 24, 2019

Washington DC — Millennials and Gen X workers are overwhelmingly opting for standard permanent jobs in a business directed by an employer. Only 1.0 percent of young workers are engaged in electronically mediated, or gig, work.

This is the main finding of Young Workers in Nonstandard Work Arrangements, 2005 – 2017, published today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). More specifically, a majority of young workers, ages 21–25, with and without a college degree, are in standard work arrangements and are more likely to hold such jobs compared to the workforce as a whole. The much-hyped growth of the gig economy cannot be found in the 2017 survey of nonstandard work arrangements.

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Paid Family Care Leave: A Missing Piece in the U.S. Social Insurance System

Jane Waldfogel and Emma Liebman │ Washington Center for Equitable Growth │June 10, 2019

Paid family and medical leave includes several distinct types of leave. Medical leave is taken from work to care for one’s own serious illness, but family leave encompasses several distinct types of leave, including leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child (generally referred to as parental leave), as well as leave to care for a family member with a serious illness, whether that be a spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, or other relative. This latter type of leave is our definition of family care leave—the focus of this report.

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The Long-Term Impacts of Girl-Friendly Schools: Evidence from the BRIGHT School Construction Program in Burkina Faso

Nicholas IngwersenHarounan KaziangaLeigh L. LindenArif MamunAli Protik, and Matthew SloanThe National Bureau of Economic Research │ June, 2019

We evaluate the long-term effects of a “girl-friendly” primary school program in Burkina Faso, using a regression discontinuity design. Ten years later, primary school-age children in villages selected for the program attend school more often and score significantly higher on standardized tests. We also find long-term effects on academic and social outcomes for children exposed earlier in the program. Secondary-school–age youths and young adults (those old enough to have finished secondary school) complete primary and secondary school at higher rates and perform significantly better on standardized tests. Women old enough to have completed secondary school delay both marriage and childbearing.

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