Supporting student parents is an equity imperative (opinion)

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Completing my college degree was the path to a better way of life, and I was determined to graduate to experience the socioeconomic benefits a college degree would afford my family. I had high aspirations of becoming a pharmacist, but after I learned I was expecting during my second year of college—and after I realized that my university’s childcare center at that time only provided service for toddlers starting at the age of 2—I made the tough decision to change majors and transfer to a different university with affordable on-campus childcare and additional resources to support my academic success. Giving up was not an option. I was a Pell Grant recipient and the first person in my family to attend college, and I knew college graduation was key to providing for my new family.

Ultimately, I graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition science and a new passion for a career in higher education to ensure more students have equitable access to college and to supports, such as childcare, that help them succeed. I would later earn my Ph.D. in higher education policy at FSU, and my one-time infant is now a high school freshman.

My personal example is not unique. Student parents across the country are placed in similar circumstances, and good options and alternatives are not always available. Childcare is a major barrier to college completion for many parenting students. Limited availability of on-campus childcare and rising childcare costs, in one way or another, influence student parents’ enrollment decisions, as well as their work and study schedules.

It’s an equity imperative to position the nearly four million student parents, who are often women, low-income and BIPOC, for college completion. But the share of colleges that provide on-campus childcare has been declining. A recent study highlighted that 49 percent of four-year public colleges provided on-campus childcare services in 2015, down from 55 percent in 2003.

The Child Care Access Means Parents in School program (CCAMPIS)—the only federal program dedicated to providing college students childcare assistance—provides more student parents options to enroll and succeed in college. By assisting student parents with enrolling their children in quality, accredited and conveniently located childcare, CCAMPIS is a critical driver for college completion and success, which ultimately increases degree attainment and economic benefits for students, families and communities.

The Institute for College Access and Success recently joined 50 other organizations to call for increasing funding of the CCAMPIS program by a factor of 10, from a little over $51 million to $500 million per year, to support more institutions and see more student parents to and through college.

Other steps are needed. To systematically address the needs and enhance success of student parents, states and higher education institutions should:

  1. Collect and use data to proactively identify students with children or young dependents and advise them about campus- and community-based resources available to meet their basic needs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; and career and social services.
  2. Incentivize colleges and universities to provide childcare services or expand existing childcare programs to meet the needs of more students.
  3. Create stronger partnerships between community colleges and four-year campus childcare programs to limit disruptions of childcare services for community college transfer students.

We should celebrate the drive and determination of student parents across the nation. Implementing the recommended strategies along with expanding CCAMPIS can create conditions where students with children can not only succeed but thrive in their pursuit of a quality higher education.