Student parents are the ultimate multi-taskers. Outside of the pressures that come from juggling academic responsibilities, student parents are responsible for the all-important work of raising happy and healthy children in a safe home environment. Unsurprisingly, the pressure that comes from this double-duty creates serious obstacles for degree completion. But although they make up around 22% of college students, student parents’ experiences are not always reflected in the resources and opportunities that their institutions offer.
Despite being far more likely than non-parents to experience “time poverty,” student parents tend to be excellent students: around 33% have a GPA of 3.5 or higher, outpacing their peers without children and those who are dependents themselves. Unfortunately, though, more than half of all student parents will drop out of the program in which they’re enrolled before completing.
To understand the challenges facing student parents, it's crucial that we know who they are and where we can find them. Though student parents can be found at all varieties of higher education institutions, they are most likely to be attending community colleges. En masse, student parents are more likely to be experiencing poverty than their peers, with 88% of student parents at or below the poverty level. The majority of student parents enrolled in higher ed programs are mothers, and within this group, 43% are single moms. Student parents represent a racially and culturally diverse student population: 60% are first-generation college students and more than half are students of color.
As an organization dedicated to reducing basic needs insecurity, Edquity has worked closely with students of varying circumstances to overcome barriers to their academic and personal success. More than half of the students we’ve supported in the past year are parents, allowing us to deepen our understanding of their lived experiences and the tools that they need to be successful. We hope that by sharing some of these insights, we can better enable institutions and other stakeholders to provide student parents with the support they need to navigate and complete their educational journey.
Here’s some of what we’ve learned from our experience supporting student parents through emergency aid and other programs:
- Housing and food insecurity: Of the student parents that spoke to the Edquity team, the vast majority of our respondents used emergency aid funds to pay for both food and housing. Research conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice has suggested that food and housing insecurity are two of the most pressing problems facing college students generally and often pose significant barriers to degree completion. In regard to student parents, the organization reported that an approximated 68% faced housing insecurity in 2019 and 17% had been homeless in the previous year. Similarly, when surveyed, 58% of Edquity’s student parent users shared that housing had been a central challenge. Though some schools have family-friendly housing on campus, this option is not available to all student parents, particularly those at community colleges that don’t offer any on-campus housing. In addition to rental payments, wifi and other utilities contribute to living expenses.
- Childcare Costs: The increasing cost and limited availability of childcare has been a hardship for many families across the US and for Edquity users, with 53% reporting using emergency aid funds to cover these expenses. For student parents who are already more likely than their peers to live in poverty, childcare is often cost-prohibitive. This has a direct impact on the experience of student parents who report missing at least one class due to a lack of childcare. The US Department of Education’s Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program is one example of a grant program made available to higher education institutions to help alleviate the financial strain felt by student parents. However, these programs are not universally available to all student parents at all institutions, leaving many responsible for seeking outside daycare and babysitting services.
- Health and Medical Expenses: Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has driven up the number of student parents that have needed support paying for medications and medical treatment. Several of our respondents shared that they had been battling serious illnesses, including advanced-stage cancer, underscoring the importance of providing assistance as quickly as possible to help student parents pay for costly medications and treatments. Overall, 34% of Edquity users reported using emergency aid funds to pay for health related expenses.
- Transportation: 45% of the student parents Edquity has served reported transportation as a major expense that emergency aid funds were used to pay for. While some students reported less predictable incidents like mechanical failure, many shared that the cost of gas was a significant expense that they had used emergency aid to pay for. Without reliable means of transportation, student parents struggle to get to campus and bring their children to caretakers, often causing additional disruptions to their academic schedules.
Pursuing higher education should not come at the expense of one’s health, safety or ability to be an attentive parent — and financial support is often the most effective way to provide student parents with the resources they need to balance both their educational and family responsibilities. To learn more about Edquity’s work with student parents, contact inquiries@edquity.
Are you an administrator? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how you can bring equitable emergency aid to your institution today.
Are you a student? Contact email@example.com or click the blue bubble in the bottom-right corner of edquity.co for assistance.