Building Family-Friendly Campuses: Strategies to Promote College Success Among Student Parents

Building Family-Friendly Campuses: Strategies to Promote College Success Among Student Parents

By Melanie Kruvelis

This post is the third in a new series by Higher Education Today, Beyond the Margins: Meeting the Needs of Underserved Students.

For parents, receiving a college degree is one of the best investments they can make to improve the financial security, social mobility, and overall well-being of their family. Research has repeatedly shown, for example, that college graduates have higher lifetime earnings than their peers with just a high school diploma, and are more likely to report experiencing better health than those with lower educational attainment. Yet for the 4.8 million college students raising children, navigating higher education—a space primarily designed with young, non-parenting adults in mind—can be uniquely challenging.

Today, more than a quarter of all undergraduate college students are raising children, and about 44 percent are doing so without the support of a partner. The majority of single parents in college—80 percent—are women. Women of color are particularly likely to be single parents while in college: Nearly 40 percent of Black women and more than a quarter of American Indian/Alaska Native women in higher education are raising a child without the support of a partner (in comparison to 19 percent of Hispanic women and 14 percent of white women).

While the share of parents enrolled in college has been steadily growing—according to the most recent data, the proportion of students with dependent children has increased 30 percent from 2004-12—the share of parenting students who complete college remains low. The most recent data show that about half of all college students earn a degree or certificate within six years of enrolling, while only a third of student parents complete school, with the rate even lower for single parents (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Share of Students Who Attained a Degree or Certificate Within Six Years of Enrollment, by Parent and Marital Status, 2003-09


Though the reasons for leaving college without a degree vary, the heightened financial and time pressures faced by student parents can pose significant challenges to graduating. Compared with their non-parenting peers, student parents are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty, and are much less likely to have the resources to pay for college than their dependent peers. Compounding the financial pressure, student parents must also find affordable child care, which is often a significant expense. According to the Care Index, the average cost of center-based care in the United States—about $9,589 annually—is outpacing the average cost of in-state tuition at $9,410. Meanwhile, the share of campuses with childcare centers continues to decline, despite the growing need.

As colleges work to improve attainment rates and address economic, racial/ethnic and gender inequality on their campuses, institutions should take steps to better understand and support their diverse student population, including students with families of their own. Ensuring that student data can be disaggregated by parental and marital status, for instance, can help administrators better understand the needs and experiences of students who are balancing school and parenting. Institutional leaders can work to protect funding for student parent supports, such as Pell Grants and the federal Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, which is the only source of federal funding available to facilitate low-income college students’ access to child care.

And institutions can employ strategies to make campuses more family-friendly, ranging from improving students’ access to childcare on- and off-campus, to stocking administrative offices with toys. A few examples of interventions that support parenting students’ college success include:

Connecting Student Parents with Financial Support and Education: The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Life Impact Program provides participating low-income student parents with a $5,000 renewable scholarship. Life Impact Scholars are also connected with a life coach who helps students navigate on- and off-campus resources, such as child care, transportation supports, and career development programs.

At Norwalk Community College in Connecticut, parenting students can enroll in the Family Economic Security Program, which provides financial coaching, in addition to achievement coaching, peer support, and educational programs, to learners who have experienced interruptions in their college pursuit.

Targeting Academic Support to Student Parents’ Needs: Endicott College’s Keys to Degrees program provides tailored tutoring to participating student parents until they can maintain a 3.0 GPA. Keys to Degrees staff also coach students on how to talk to professors about balancing school with family responsibilities, help them secure internships related to their degree and ensure their graduation within four years.

At the University of California, San Diego, student parents can apply for priority enrollment so they can secure the courses they need to graduate while also creating a schedule that allows them to balance their school, family and work responsibilities more easily.

Making Child Care Accessible and Affordable: At the University of Michigan, low-income student parents may access a child care subsidy through the school’s Financial Aid Office, which they can use for licensed child care in the community.

Parenting students attending Lane Community College in Oregon are offered no-cost assistance finding child care through an on-campus child care resource and referral center.

Building Peer Community: At the University of Alabama, the Undergraduate and Graduate Parent Support programs developed online forums so that student parents can connect on issues related to balancing schoolwork with family responsibilities.

Student parents at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities can attend group lunches for parenting students, coordinated by the university’s Student Parent HELP Center.

Establishing a Family-Friendly Campus Environment: At Niagara County Community College in New York, the Mapping Opportunities for Moms program equips administrative and counseling offices with toys, signaling to students and college staff that families are welcome on campus, in addition to providing single mothers with a range of supports to help them attain a degree or certificate.

The Family Resource Center at Los Angeles Valley Community College has created a space on campus for the college’s parenting students, where they host play groups, as well as baby clothes exchanges, book exchanges, in addition to other two-generation services for parents and their children.

These are a few examples from a menu of options institutions may consider when developing family-friendly programming, and can be mixed, matched, and molded to fit the particular needs and capacity of institutions. While the approaches vary, what these supports have in common is the ability to help stabilize low-income student parents so they have both the time and economic security to focus on attaining a degree. By advocating for student parent supports, developing a greater understanding of student parents’ needs and implementing targeted interventions, colleges can build a more welcoming, productive environment that helps parents complete school and launch careers that provide economic security for their families.

IWPR stands with Pride!

IWPR stands with PRIDE!

Pride month is celebrated across the United States every June. It is a time when we honor the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have had on the country.

On June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court of the United States recognized the right of same-sex partners to legally marry, the ruling not only meant increased access to benefits for same-sex couples and their children, it brought with it the hope of future gains through legal precedent for equal treatment under the law.

IWPR data show that we need for faster progress to ensure that LGBTQ+ individuals enjoy equal rights and opportunities in employment and earnings, and access to basic benefits to promote health and safety.

Some research done by IWPR regarding these inequalities faced by LGBTQ+ individuals includes:

Status of Women in the States
As of 2014, 29 states – mostly Midwestern, Mountain, and Southern states – still lacked statewide protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • Despite their strong participation in the labor force, many women living with a same-sex partner experience economic insecurity
  • About 1 in 3 (34 percent) of LGBTQ+ women did not have enough money for food between 2011 and 2012, compared with 20 percent of non-LGBTQ+ women
  • Lesbian and bisexual women aged 18 and older are more likely than heterosexual women to report having psychological distress – LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience mood and anxiety disorders, depression, and suicidal ideation and attempts

Status of Women in the South
In addition to employment discrimination, LGBTQ+ people still face legal barriers to equality as many states do not protect LGBTQ+ people from being evicted or denied a home loan and denied health coverage on the basis of their identities

  • Some states are attempting to pass laws specifically prohibiting second-parent adoption for same-sex couples
  • Women aged 25 and older living with a same-sex partner in the South are much more likely than women overall to have a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Southern women in same-sex households have higher rates of labor force participation relative to heterosexual women who are married to men or single

Status of Black Women in the United States

  • Research suggests that Black LGBTQ+ individuals, especially those who are victims of violence, experience heightened discrimination from law enforcement
  • Once in prison, LGBTQ+ women of color report high levels of discrimination and assault within prisons. Forty percent of girls in juvenile detention describe themselves as lesbian, bisexual, gender questioning/gender non-conforming, or transgender

Facts matter. That is why the Institute for Women’s Policy Research works to produce high quality research on women and families around the country and around the world, we give you the facts.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences.

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What the Research Says: Job Training

What the Research Says: Job Training

The Trump Administration declared this to be Workforce Development Week, focusing on job training programs, apprenticeships, and improving America’s economy.

Current funding levels of job training programs leave administrators with limited resources to provide supportive services to program participants. The Trump Administration’s proposed budget would cut job training funding even further.

Job Training + Supportive Services = Greater Likelihood of Success

Supportive services are a critical feature of programs that help underserved populations succeed in the job market. That’s the basic conclusion of IWPR’s recent Job Training Success Project. The five-report series demonstrates the importance of providing trainees services such as case management, transportation assistance, child care, and emergency cash, among others. Supports are associated with improved training and employment outcomes even when controlling for factors such as gender, race, age, marital status, education, number of dependent children, and immigrant status, among other factors.

>>Read the new one-pager on findings from IWPR’s Job Training Success Project.

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proud female auto mechanic

Job Training Participants Say Supports Are “Incredibly Important” in Achieving Workforce Success

IWPR’s nationwide online survey 1,900 job training program participants, conducted in 2016, was the largest survey exploring the relationship between supportive services and program and employment outcomes and the first to examine which services participants need most. Many survey respondents reported that receiving supportive services was vital to their ability to complete job training.  As one trainee said, “All the assistance I received from this program has been incredibly important in keeping me in my program.  Without it, I have to make decisions like whether to pay for rent or food or pay for school fees.”

>>Read the new one-pager on findings from the national survey.

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IWPR is a national partner of the National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment. For more information on the Center’s work to expand access to apprenticeships and non-traditional careers for women, visit http://womensequitycenter.org/.

Research News Roundup – May 2017

Research Making the News

No need to punish poor or raise taxes to get people off welfare

By Chris Tomlinson|  | 5.23.17

“The adult poverty rate in Texas could be slashed from 10 percent to 4.9 percent if women were paid the same as men, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The poverty rate among single Texas mothers would drop from 31.4 percent to 19.5 percent. ‘Persistent earnings inequality for working women translates into lower lifetime pay for women, less income for families and higher rates of poverty across the United States,’ researcher Jessica Milli concluded. ‘If women in the United States received equal pay with comparable men … the U.S. economy would have added $512.6 billion in wage and salary income.'”

Citing: The Economic Impact of Equal Pay by State by Jessica Milli, Institute for Women’s Policy Research

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New Study: Women Don’t Want to Get Married Just Because Men Make More Money

Amanda Marcotte | | 5.17.17

“…Women in larger numbers may have begun choosing single motherhood out of perceived economic necessity, believing that their male partners weren’t steady enough to marry. But although the idea of single motherhood has become more normalized, women haven’t necessarily been more eager to marry, even if men are starting to make better money.”

Citing: Male Earnings, Marriageable Men, and Nonmarital Fertility: Evidence from the Fracking Boom by Melissa S. Kearney and Riley Wilson, National Bureau of Economic Research

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The Gender Pay Gap Is Largely Because of Motherhood

By Claire Cain Miller | | 5.13.17

“When men and women finish school and start working, they’re paid pretty much equally. But a gender pay gap soon appears, and it grows significantly over the next two decades. So what changes? The answer can be found by looking at when the pay gap widens most sharply. It’s the late 20s to mid-30s, according to two new studies — in other words, when many women have children. Unmarried women without children continue to earn closer to what men do.”

Citing: The Dynamics of Gender Earnings Differentials: Evidence from Establishment Data by Erling Barth, Sari Pekkala Kerr, and Claudia Olivetti, National Bureau of Economic Research

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Black Girls Are Twice as Likely to Be Suspended, In Every State

By Lauren Camera | | 5.9.17

“Black girls are more than twice as likely to be suspended from school as white girls – in every state – and it’s not because of more frequent or serious misbehavior. That’s one of the major findings included in a new report from the National Women’s Law Center, which examined a slate of issues that disproportionately impact girls of color. Its researchers placed the bulk of the blame on racist and sexist stereotypes that educators and school officials sometimes harbor about black girls, as well as a web of social circumstances, including their overrepresentation in schools with limited resources that hampers their access to experienced teachers and counselors.”

Citing: Stopping School Pushout for Girls of Color, by Adaku Onyeka-Crawford, Kayla Patrick, and Neena Chaudhry, National Women’s Law Center

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New Research Reports

Flouting the Facts: State Abortion Restrictions Flying in the Face of Science

By Rachel Benson Gold and Elizabeth Nash | Guttmacher Institute | May 2017

Most states require abortion facilities and other health care facilities to meet standards designed to ensure patient safety. However, some states have imposed specific standards for abortion providers that do little or nothing to improve safety, but significantly limit access to abortion. Those standards include measures that impose excessive physical plant requirements or require providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals; other restrictions ban the use of telemedicine for medication abortion and limit the provision of abortion to licensed physicians.

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Intermarriage in the U.S. 50 Years after Loving v. Virginia

By Gretchen Livingston and Anna Brown | Pew Research Center | May 2017

In 2015, 17 percent of all U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, marking more than a fivefold increase since 1967, when 3% of newlyweds were intermarried, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. In that year, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Loving v. Virginia case ruled that marriage across racial lines was legal throughout the country. Until this ruling, interracial marriages were forbidden in many states. More broadly, one-in-ten married people in 2015 – not just those who recently married – had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. This translates into 11 million people who were intermarried.

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Parental Work Hours and Childhood Obesity: Evidence Using Instrumental Variables Related to Sibling School Eligibility

By Charles Courtemanche, Rusty Tchernis, and Xilin Zhou | Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group, University of Chicago | May 2017

This study exploits plausibly exogenous variation from the youngest sibling’s school eligibility to estimate the effects of parental work on the weight outcomes of older children. Data come from the 1979 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth linked to the Child and Young Adult Supplement. The researchers first show that mothers’ work hours increase gradually as the age of the youngest child rises, whereas mothers’ spouses’ work hours exhibit a discontinuous jump at kindergarten eligibility. Leveraging these insights, they develop an instrumental variables model that shows that parents’ work hours lead to larger increases in children’s BMI z-scores and probabilities of being overweight and obese than those identified in previous studies. They find no evidence that the impacts of maternal and paternal work are different. Subsample analyses find that the effects are concentrated among advantaged households, as measured by an index involving education, race, and mother’s marital status.

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The Gender Gap in Financial Outcomes: The Impact of Medical Payments

By Diana Farrell and Fiona Greig | JP Morgan Chase & Co. Institute | May 2017

The financial resilience of families is a critical factor in the overall health of the US economy. Americans across the income spectrum experience high levels of income and spending volatility, and health emergencies are among the most common economic hardships. One in six families makes an extraordinary medical payment in any given year. Families’ financial outcomes worsen as a result of the extraordinary medical payment and do not fully recover even a year after. This is especially true for women. The gender gap in financial outcomes widens after an extraordinary medical payment.

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Women and Giving: The Impact of Generation and Gender on Philanthropy

By Fidelity Charitable | May 2017

Women today play a central role in philanthropy, leading charitable giving within their families, using their time and skills to advance causes within their communities, and embodying the purpose and heart that underpin philanthropic goals. Women’s influence in and approach to giving has evolved over the last 40 years, reflecting the societal changes that have altered gender roles. While older women are entering retirement after decades of taking on expanding roles for women, including a greater say in household giving  decisions, their daughters—the beneficiaries of greater opportunity—are using those expanded roles to help  lead philanthropy in new directions. This report from Fidelity Charitable highlights this evolution in giving, spotlighting the differences between generations of women who give and further examining the similarities among all women, and how their philanthropic journeys are distinctive from men’s.

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The Haves and Have Nots of Paid Family Leave: Unequal Policies from the Nation’s Largest Employers

By PL+US: Paid Leave for the United States | May 2017

In the United States today, paid family leave is an elite benefit: 94 percent of low-income working people have no access to paid family leave. Millions of Americans don’t get even a single day of paid time for caregiving. One in four new moms in the U.S. is back at work just ten days after childbirth. While public discourse often focuses on income inequality, there is another critical way families experience inequality: the inability to be with their babies and families for the most important moments of their lives.

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What the Research Says: President Trump’s 2018 Budget

What the Research Says: President Trump’s 2018 Budget

The Trump Administration released their 2018 budget on Tuesday. Among many other proposed cuts to health, public assistance, and education programs, the budget eliminates funding for two often overlooked programs—Child Care Access Means Parents In School (CCAMPIS) and the Legal Services Corporation—which would disproportionately affect women. IWPR analyzes how in the below pieces.

Federal Grants Help Student Parents Succeed, But Trump Budget Threatens Their Elimination

Young woman graduating

Jobs with family-sustaining wages increasingly demand workers with at least a community college degree or certificate. But obtaining that all-important credential can be particularly difficult for the 2.1 million community college students—most of whom are women—with dependent children. All too often student parents confront a complicated mix of low incomes, high student debt, and costly child-related expenditures. Affordable, high-quality child care can make the difference for these students and their families. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration’s proposed budget jeopardizes student parent support programs with long records of success at both two- and four- year institutions.

>>Read the new one-pager, “Federal Grants Help Student Parents Succeed, But Trump Budget Threatens Their Elimination”

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Cuts to Legal Services Corporation Would Disproportionately Harm Survivors of Domestic Violence

woman and darkness

President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, released Tuesday, provides key insights into the new Administration’s policy priorities, and if passed, would shift funding away from services that help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The proposed budget would cut all federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), a program that helps low-income people access much needed legal aid. Domestic violence survivors, particularly survivors of color, often lack financial resources to pay for legal support, and need legal aid services to achieve safety and economic independence.

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Cuts to Legal Services Corporation Would Disproportionately Harm Survivors of Domestic Violence

Cuts to Legal Services Corporation Would Disproportionately Harm Survivors of Domestic Violence

President Trump’s 2018 budget released Tuesday provides key insights into the new Administration’s policy priorities, which, if passed, would shift funding away from services that help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The proposed budget cuts all federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), a program that helps low-income people access much needed legal aid. Domestic violence survivors disproportionally benefit from legal aid services. According to program data, 70 percent of LSC clients are women, and family cases—domestic abuse, divorce/separation/annulment, and child custody issues—are the largest number of cases supported by LSC attorneys.

Economic insecurity is often a key barrier for survivors trying to leave abusive relationships. Research finds that an estimated three in four survivors (74 percent) stay with an abuser for economic reasons, and one study of 103 domestic violence survivors found that nearly all (99 percent) experienced economic abuse—including tactics such as generating credit card debt or sabotaging employment—that limit their options and make them financially dependent on the abuser. On average, victims lose over 7 days of paid work per year. In addition to lost wages, many victims lose their jobs as a result of abuse.  Results of small research studies done in Wisconsin, Chicago, and Maine find rates of job loss due to violence ranging from 30 to 60 percent.  Survivors often face high costs for medical care and treatment — one regional study finds that health care costs for women who experience physical abuse are 42 percent higher than for other women.  The many individual costs of violence create economic insecurity that compromises safety, independence, and access to justice.

For survivors who cannot afford legal fees, legal aid services may be one of the few resources to safely separate and protect their children from an abusive partner. Victims who work with an attorney are more likely to be granted an order of protection than those who represent themselves – 83 percent versus 32 percent, according to one study in Maryland. Orders of protection help ensure physical safety and can include protections that allow survivors to safely remain at work, school, or in their homes. Abusive partners often contest divorce cases, which can exacerbate violence and harm to children, and may seek custody of children to further coerce and control their partners. Experienced legal representation is essential for survivors’ safety, justice, and support. Unfortunately, survivors’ options for affordable and accessible legal help beyond LCS are also shrinking, making this resource even more essential. The National Network to End Domestic Violence 2016 Domestic Violence Counts census found that legal representation by an attorney was the second most sought-after—but unmet—request, and that only 12 percent of programs nationally were able to provide this service.

Policymakers can work to promote safety and justice for survivors by helping them cover costs faced when leaving an abuser and to support opportunities to build their long-term economic stability and independence. Research suggests that survivors need greater access to affordable or free legal services, not less. Cuts to legal services would limit the resources available to help survivors navigate the justice system to ensure their safety and promote greater economic security for themselves and their families. As it stands, the proposed budget from the Trump Administration would make it even more cost prohibitive to leave an abuser.

Women’s Health Matters to the U.S. Economy

Access to affordable health care is a topic on everyone’s minds. For women, the stakes are high as the national conversation on the United States healthcare system and its future continues to wind its way through Congress. Not only is this National Women’s Health Week, but the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We already know how important the status of women’s health and well-being are to families and to the economy – we just need to remind our policymakers and toughen our stance with facts.

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Women are the co- or sole breadwinners in half of American families with children. We’ve seen improvements in women’s mortality rates from chronic diseases, but we’ve lost ground on worsening suicide rates and mental health.

Poor health can pose obstacles to financial stability, educational attainment, and employment, while good health allows women to thrive. Women’s status related to health and wellness also varies considerably by race and ethnicity. Black women are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease, and nearly three times as likely to die from breast cancer, as Asian/Pacific Islander women, the group with the lowest rates. White women have the highest lung cancer mortality rate and are three times more likely to die from lung cancer than Hispanic women, the group with the lowest rate.

Paid family and medical leave programs, which can help women take time to recover from pregnancy or serious illness, offer economic, social, and health benefits to workers, families, employers, and society. IWPR’s research has found that a paid leave policy could be offered nationwide at modest cost.

Given the current political climate and debate over the ACA (Affordable Care Act) and proposed revision, AHCA (American Health Care Act), it’s important to remember that approximately 5 million women of childbearing age (19 to 44 years old) gained coverage from 2010 to 2015 and more than 90 percent of American women and girls now have health insurance.

In order for women and our economy to thrive, we need unassailable facts and solutions. To do this, IWPR needs your support.

Facts matter, that is why the Institute for Women’s Policy Research works to continually produce high quality research on women and families around the country and around the world – this is what we do, we give you the facts.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences.