creating a family friendly community college
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Creating a Family-Friendly Community College

Supporting student parents on campus

Community Colleges serve far more non-traditional students than public or private four-year institutions. Even as all college populations have become more diverse – over a quarter of all undergraduate students are now raising children – Community Colleges still attract the largest number student parents. Of the 4.8 million students with dependent children, 2.1 million attend community colleges.

New data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that the majority of these student parents are women, who generally have incomes far below the poverty line. Despite this, these women are also more likely to be employed than their childless counterparts. Student mothers’ work obligations don’t end when they get home either, where they provide an average of 43 hours a week of childcare and housework. s, another 55% never earn a college credential, and 4 out of 10 enrolled student parents say they are likely to drop out because of child care obligations. As completion rates remain low at community colleges, a quick glance at these numbers suggests that one of the best things colleges could do to change those outcomes is support student parents.

Working student parents and the childcare problem

A recent paper from the Urban Institute gives us some key insights into the lives of low-income, working student parents. The majority of these (71%) were women.

  • Nearly 1 million low-income parents work while attending school, with about half working full time
  • Parents with young children were most likely to work full time
  • About half have had one child and about a third had two children
  • Slightly less than half reported their youngest child was 2 or younger
  • Of those who worked full time, nearly half also attended school full time

We can see that student parents often have very young children, meaning that they cannot not depend on receiving childcare through the public-school system. Complicating matters, student parents often try to combine full-time work and full-time school while managing childcare. This means that they need childcare during non-standard hours, like evenings or weekend, when daycare centers are closed. Only 9% of childcare centers are open outside of normal operating hours (Spaulding et. al. 13).

Even more difficult than finding available childcare is affording the overwhelming expense. The average cost of center-based care for an infant, which was about $10,400 in 2016, is roughly a third of single mother’s average income. If she has two or more children the cost can rise to more than 50% of her earnings. And, although on-campus childcare options are often more reasonably priced, only 44 percent of community colleges surveyed in 2015 had childcare centers.

Student parents and food insecurity

The Urban Institute research also established that the students they surveyed are much more likely to be recipients of social service benefits, with nearly half participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Spaulding et. al. 11). These numbers tally with the wider reports of food insecurity on campuses nationwide.

NPR reports that nearly 50% of the students say that they are either not getting enough food or are worried about getting enough food. Unsurprisingly, students at community colleges report the most widespread food insecurity. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint a single cause, the rising number of student mothers likely contributes to growing food insecurity on campuses, as the risk of childhood food insecurity is consistently the highest in single-mother families.

The new work requirement laws passing around the country may make the situation even worse. For instance, the bill passed by the Michigan Legislature that mandates Medicaid recipients work at least 80 hours a month gives exemptions only to full-time students. Student parents are much more likely to attend school just part time as they struggle to balance all of their competing commitments.

What community colleges can do to improve outcomes for student parents

The complicated problems student parents face must be addressed on a number of levels. The Women’s Institute for Policy Research supports increased funding for child care assistance through federal programs like the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program (CCAMPIS), targeted financial aid options for student parents, and also innovative solutions by individual schools.

One stellar example of the difference these intersectional efforts can make is LaGuardia Community College. The college offers childcare for children from ages 12 months to 12 years, and has hours on the weekend and in the evenings. The school also offers summer and holiday camps and food assistance to needy families. Students pay less than 15 dollars a day for childcare through the Early Childhood Learning Center, which receives a variety of local and federal funding.

However, since the majority of community colleges still don’t offer this kind of support, more must be done. Student parents, and especially student mothers, desperately need wrap-around services. Without them the number of student parents in college may rise, but their completion rates will remain as dismal as ever.


Andrews, Michelle. “For Many College Students, Hunger ‘Makes it Hard to Focus’” National Public Radio. Natl. Public Radio, 31 July 2018. Web. 21 Sept 2018

Cruse, Lindsey Reichlin, Barbara Gault, Jooyeoun Suh, Mary Ann DeMario. “Time Demands of Single Mother College Students and the Role of Child Care in their Postsecondary Success.” IWPR. Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, May 2018. Web. 21 Sept 2018

Cruse, Lindsey Reichlin, Eleanor Eckerson, Barbara Gault. “Understanding the New College Majority: The Demographic and Financial Characteristics of Independent Students and their Postsecondary Outcomes.” IWPR. Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, February 2018. Web. 21 Sept 2018

Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “4.8 Million College Students are Raising Children.” Fact Sheet, IWPR #C424. Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, November 2014. Web. 21 Sept 2018

Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Single Mothers in College: Growing Enrollment, Financial Challenges, and the Benefits of Attainment.” Briefing Paper, IWPR #C460. Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, September 2017. Web. 21 Sept 2018

Miller, Daniel P. Lenna Nepomnyaschy, Gabriel Lara Ibarra, Steven Garasky. “Family Structure and Child Food Insecurity.” Am J Public Health. 104(7): e70-e76. July 2014. Web. 21 Sept 2018

Powell, Farran. “What to Know About Child Care Access in College.” US News & World Report. 16 May 2018. Web. Sept 2018

Spangler, Todd. “4 Things to Know About Michigan’s Medicaid Work Requirements.” Detroit Free Press. 15 June 2018. Web. Sept 2018

Spaulding, Shayne, Teresa Derrick-Mills, and Thomas Callan. “Supporting Parents Who Work and Go to School: A Portrait of Low-Income Students Who Are Employed.” Urban Institute. Jan 2016. Web. 21 Sept 2018