Few studies systematically explore the link between access to child care and college completion among student parents. Existing research and program data, however, suggest that child care plays an important role in helping student parents stay in school and acquire the degree or credential that may open the door to better paying jobs.
Here is what we know about child care access and student parent success in college:
Students who used the on-campus child care center at Monroe Community College in New York were nearly three times as likely to graduate or transfer to a four-year college than student parents who did not use the center.
In 2013, the Office of Institutional Research at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY, studied outcomes among its student parent population, finding that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the students who used campus child care returned to school the following fall, compared with just half (51 percent) of student parents who did not use the center, excluding those who graduated. Students who used the center were also nearly three times more likely to graduate or transfer to a four-year college within three years of enrollment (41 percent of students using campus child care, compared with 15 percent who did not use the center).
Student parents receiving child care support from federally-funded CCAMPIS programs appear to graduate at much higher rates than student parents overall, according to data from several campus programs.
The Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) provides funding, on a competitive basis, to some institutions to provide child care access to low-income student parents. The program serves roughly 90 campuses, and outcome data for CCAMPIS students, while limited and without comparison groups, suggest an association between participating in a CCAMPIS program and improved college success, with substantially higher graduation rates than seen among student parents overall.
For example, among 77 students who participated in the University of Wisconsin-Madison CCAMPIS program from 2005-2011, 83 percent graduated. CCAMPIS participant graduation rates were nearly identical to the 2010 rate among all undergraduate students (85 percent), which is notable: in the United States overall, nonparents are more than twice as likely as parents to graduate (68 percent, compared with 33 percent).
More than 2 in 5 women community college students who live with young children say they are likely or very likely to withdraw from college to care for dependents.
Data from the 2016 Community College Survey of Student Engagement show that, among students living with young children, nearly three-quarters of women (71 percent) and half of men reported spending over 20 hours a week caring for dependents. These care demands are likely to lead student parents to drop out: 43 percent of women and 37 percent of men living with children say they are likely or very likely to withdraw from college to care for dependents. Previous research suggests that time spent working beyond 20 hours per week substantially decreases college completion rates. While it has not previously been studied, time spent caring for children is likely to have a similar effect, especially when combined with work. (Three states—Arizona, Kentucky, and Washington— require student parents to work at least 20 hours per week to be eligible for Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) child care subsidies.)
Nearly 3 in 5 mothers in Mississippi who had paused or dropped out of school said that having more stable and affordable child care would have helped them stay in college.
IWPR’s survey of 544 women community college students in Mississippi—31 percent of whom were raising dependent children—found that the lack of access to affordable child care threatened their college progress. Among mothers who had taken time off from school or dropped out, nearly three in five (59 percent) reported that having more stable or affordable child care would have helped them stay in college. Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents with children under age 11 said they could not get the quality child care they wanted because it was too expensive—a sentiment that was particularly strong among younger, lower-income, and African-American parents.
“Family commitments” are a top reason that students who leave college would find it difficult to return.
In a 2009 Public Agenda survey of 614 adults (ages 22 -30) who had done at least some college course work, two-thirds said that providing child care would help other students like them complete college successfully, as did over three-quarters (76 percent) of respondents who had not completed their postsecondary education program. In addition, “family commitments” was the second most common reason that returning to college would be difficult for those who had left without graduating.
Creative strategies to increase child care access would contribute to increasing college attendance and completion.
While it stands to reason that better access to child care would encourage parents to return to college and help them stay enrolled, we need more evidence on the strategies that allow states, colleges, and communities to provide these supports affordably and effectively. Parenting responsibilities are emerging as a much bigger factor in students’ ability to access and complete college than anyone might have thought—and better child care access would contribute to increasing college attendance and completion.