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.  

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.

IWPR’s Heidi Hartmann and Gina Chirillo Outline Child Care Agenda in Dissent

IWPR’s Heidi Hartmann and Gina Chirillo Outline Child Care Agenda in Dissent

In the current issue of Dissent, IWPR’s Heidi Hartmann and Gina Chirillo review research from around the world on benefits of child care and outline what a child care agenda for the progressive movement would look like.

Child care has been described by the late economist Barbara Bergmann as a merit good; it does more for society than it costs. Parents, many of whom have low incomes especially when their children are young, simply don’t have the funds to invest the optimal amount in their own children. And parents are not the only ones, or even the main ones, to benefit from their investment; well-educated children benefit all of society. As a society we underinvest in children, and only the public sector can fill the gap.

Read more at Dissentmagazine.org.

IWPR’s Liz Noll on How Joining Together to Support Other Student Parents Helped Her in School

IWPR’s Liz Noll on How Joining Together to Support Other Student Parents Helped Her in School

Elizabeth Noll, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist at IWPR, received both her B.A. and M.A. degrees in Sociology from Temple University and a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University of Pennsylvania. Before pursuing her BA, Dr. Noll attained her associate’s degree in Computer Science at Montgomery County Community College (MCCC), while raising her daughter Marisa. Earlier this month, Dr. Noll was inducted into MCCC Alumni Hall of Fame, in part because of her decades of work to support the campus’s child care center, as well as her important work and scholarship since she graduated.

IWPR Communications Associate, Nicolas Martinez, interviewed Dr. Noll about her experience as a student parent pursuing higher education and how on-campus child care contributed to her success in school.

  1. Could you tell us a bit about why you chose to pursue higher education?

I have always had a drive to learn about the world, especially about why things work as they do. However, my parents, who were very bright but who had only high school degrees, felt that as the only girl, the family would be better served by focusing on educating my three brothers. Remember, this was in the late 1950s/early 1960s when only elite women attended college. My mother was a stay-at-home parent. It was also a time when it was possible for people to actually work their way up the ladder. My father did that by working as a custodian in a knitting company and working his way to mechanical engineer and had several patents for machines he designed.

So, although I was an honor student in high school, and had a real desire to continue my education, I entered the workforce, employed with the Department of Public Welfare in Philadelphia as a caseworker— a civil service job that at the time did not require a college degree. In 1980, when the Reagan administration began limiting welfare benefits for the poor, I felt I could no longer serve my clients and left that position. Around the same time, I gave birth to my daughter and, without a partner, found myself responsible for another human being.

I moved in with a friend in the suburbs of Philadelphia. There, I enrolled in Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) mostly because they had a child care program of sorts, in the form of a “Parents Club,” which was a cooperative where parents took turns caring for children while other parents were in class. Not knowing what course of study to pursue, I enrolled in a general studies program. Looking back, this was an ideal program, since it introduced me to a variety of disciplines.  Among other areas, the program introduced me to careers in computer sciences. It laid a foundation that I was able to use in a variety of settings, including social research.

  1. What helped you balance parenthood with school?

Clearly, having a place on campus where I felt my 4-year-old daughter would be cared for while I was in class made my education possible. An unexpected benefit was having a space to share with other parents (mostly single mothers), who were challenging the stereotype and who supported each other when the going got tough, which it almost always does for women raising children on their own. I established long-term friendships there that I have maintained today. (Attached is a photo from this year’s Hall of Fame ceremony with two of those moms). Finally, MCCC, by virtue of having a child care center on campus in 1984, was a forward-thinking college as it continues to be today.

  1. You now work on IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative. What sort of research are you doing now on these issues?

I feel very fortunate to (finally) be working on projects that I connect with personally. In just the year that I’ve been with IWPR, I’ve worked on several analyses of national education survey data (IPEDS, NPSAS) to produce reports on the growth of the student parent population, along with the decline in on-campus child care; an national and regional profiles of student parents; a report on how community colleges can become family-friendly; an analysis of findings from a survey of campus child care leaders; a report on ways to link campus child care and early childhood education systems (forthcoming); and currently a cost-benefit analysis of higher education for single mothers (forthcoming). In March I attended a national conference of child care centers in Long Beach, CA, where I had the pleasure of hearing from campus child care providers about the issues they’re facing in serving student parents and their children.

  1. You’re studying the benefits to individuals and society of single mother education. As a former student parent, what is your perspective on the benefits that higher education can bring?

In addition to the very practical benefits of higher education, such as allowing students raising children alone to provide  housing, food, healthcare, and education for their children through greater earnings potential, single mothers particularly benefit by acquiring the necessary skills for leadership to contribute to areas that directly address the economic barriers they have encountered—to enlighten researchers and policymakers who have not directly experienced raising children alone on those policies and interventions that actually reflect their lives.

  1. What sort policies would help student parents pursuing higher education today?

The policy of requiring low-income single mothers, who are attempting to attain a college education to work 20 or more hours per week while in school in order to maintain their public benefits is not at all helpful for the women or for society.

I would also like to see social service database systems reconfigured to  include performance measures that reflect the actual qualitative experiences of low-income mothers.  My dissertation research revealed disconnects in the designs  of college and welfare office data systems that caused some student parents to be sanctioned erroneously and, in many cases, caused them to withdraw from college.

  1. If you could change one thing about your college experience, what would it be?

I would like to have been able to attend college (especially graduate school) on a full-time basis. Not only would it have taken less time to complete, but part-time college attendance is a qualitatively different experience than attending full-time where one can be truly immersed in a discipline. It is often challenging for non-traditional students, especially student parents, to fully  integrate what is being taught when they have to compartmentalize so much of their time. On the other hand, life with children while attending college is an education in itself.

Dr. Noll works on IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative where she conducts policy research related to the needs and experiences of student parents with a focus on increasing postsecondary education access and persistence for low-income mothers. Find IWPR’s research and resources on student parents at IWPR.org. 

Take a look at when Elizabeth Noll, Ph.D. was inducted into the Montgomery County Community College Alumni Hall of Fame on Friday, April 28, 2017.

Videos produced by Diane vanDyke and Matt Porter. Music composed by Michael Kelly. Narration by Michele Cuomo.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

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.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org