Over a quarter of community college students are parents. Many of them are struggling.
When it comes to barriers to entry for community college, few are as significant as those facing student-parents, especially as these barriers are likely to be compounded by even higher financial hurdles than for non-parent students. Despite the difficulty of affording classes, coordinating childcare, and finding the time to complete coursework amidst the competing demands of work and parenting, a surprising percentage of community college students are also parents.
In fact, community college students are more likely to be parents than those attending four-year institutions, which typically attract students straight out of high school. Community colleges often have an older demographic of students who have taken a break between high school and starting a post-secondary degree.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that student-parents often perform better academically than their non-parent peers, they also have higher rates of non-completion. Given how deeply beneficial community college degrees can be for both parents and their children, addressing this barrier is essential to ensure community colleges are meeting student needs.
Develop affordable childcare options for student-parents.
The first and most essential step community colleges can take toward supporting student-parents is by offering on-campus childcare. Currently, 44% of community colleges have such a program, although that number is a decline from 53% in 2003. Even this number may be misleading, however, as many of these childcare spaces are at capacity with long waiting lists.
The federal government has tried to offer support through the CCAMPIS (Child Care Access Means Parents In School) program, which in 2022 supplied over $82M in grants. This was an increase from the prior year’s $51M, and a sharp rise from the early years of the program when annual aid averaged roughly $15M. However, even this level of federal assistance falls far short of actual need.
Nevertheless, what has been shown is that when on-campus childcare is publicized, parents enroll. Without childcare support, parents are much more likely to drop out of courses, or fail to enroll in the first place.
Offer parenting supplies and other tangible support resources.
Childcare isn’t the only area in which community colleges can offer support. Many campuses offer food pantries and affordable housing for students in need. Stocking much-needed parenting supplies, such as diapers, formula, and baby wipes can also relieve financial pressure and make it easier for parents to keep essentials on hand for their children. Family-friendly housing located close to campus can also reduce commute times for parents, making it easier to fit classes into their schedule.
Create inclusive spaces for parents on campus.
Despite forming such a significant portion of the student body, student-parents can often feel as if they have to keep their home lives as parents separate from their on-campus lives as students. But just as that student identity will inevitably bleed into their home life, so will their home life affect their time on campus.
A mother with a newborn needs a private space to pump or breastfeed, a father who has brought his toddler to campus needs a spot to change diapers that isn’t located in the women’s restroom, and children themselves need places to play, both indoors and outdoors. Colleges can support their student-parents by designing space to be parent-friendly by including:
- Lactation rooms for new mothers.
- Changing stations that are accessible to both mothers and fathers.
- Child-friendly study areas.
- Playgrounds, play rooms, and children’s reading corners.
Develop flexible courses, syllabuses, and classroom policies.
Many classroom practices—such as strict due dates with late penalties, or sit-in exams—have been developed in the interests of academic fairness and to streamline grading processes for teachers. However, these same policies may disadvantage parents with unavoidable child-related conflicts. It’s hardly fair to a parent who has worked hard all semester to be penalized for missing a final because their child became sick or their babysitter cancelled at the last minute.
Community colleges should encourage instructors to re-think their policies and develop syllabuses that allow greater flexibility—whether that means take-home exams, make-up assignments, or greater leniency on due dates. Additionally, community colleges can provide courses that are easier for parents to attend, such as online or evening classes.
Include student-parents in campus life programs.
Parents, especially new parents and young parents, are frequently overwhelmed by exhaustion and isolation. Apart from the logistical and financial challenges of their coursework, the emotional burden of feeling like they’re “all on their own” can make it even more difficult to finish their degree. Of course, this begs the question: Why do student-parents feel on their own when a quarter of their peers are also parents?
Student life may offer an answer as well as a solution. With so many clubs and social activities targeted toward students without children, student-parents can have difficulty joining up. On the other hand, support groups for student-parents can help peers build social connections that can cut down on isolation and even make it easier for parents to coordinate study times with childcare.
Raise the visibility of student-parents in your marketing materials.
Another way to help student-parents feel more welcome on your campus is to include them in your marketing materials. Pictures of students with their children using your child-friendly spaces or meeting in a student-parent social group is an effective way to signal to students that you’re committed to helping them complete their degree while balancing their family obligations.
At Aperture Content Marketing, we specialize in creating multi-channel marketing campaigns for community colleges that draw upon our library or content to offer information-based articles by mail, on social media, and over via online micro sites. An issue devoted to student-parents that gathers information about all the above services and resources can attract new students while also informing current students.
Educate faculty and staff on student-parent support services.
Of course, having policies and resources in place to support student-parents doesn’t help if student-parents never hear about them, or if those who are supposed to be responsible for these services aren’t fully informed. Internal marketing of your services can play a key role in keeping your faculty and staff up-to-date on support resources for student-parents.
The same print mailer that you send out to prospective students can also be distributed internally so that everyone is on the same page and is ready with a physical resource to give to student-parents who are looking for information.
Community colleges should take the lead in informing student-parents about support resources.
College students are adults, and that means many can be trusted to do their own research and inform themselves about the options available to them. But colleges who are hoping to raise enrollment only help themselves by marketing their support resources—and this is all the more true for parent-students who are already stretched thin and may not have the time to do this research on their own.
Fortunately, increasing awareness for your programs is a lot more straightforward than creating and maintaining those programs in the first place. An information-rich, multichannel marketing strategy can not only boost the reach of these programs, it may even encourage some parents to sign up for classes while helping other student-parents to stay enrolled.
If you would like to learn more about how Aperture can help your community college raise the profile of your parent support resources, contact us today.
Read more from this series:
- Increasing Program Enrollment Means Connecting This Missing Link
- Community College Demographics Aren’t What You Think
- How Community Colleges Can Help Students Afford Enrollment
- How Community Colleges Can Support Working Students
- Language Barriers Are Enrollment Barriers for Community Colleges
- Student Support: How Far Can Community Colleges Go?
- How Accessible Are Your Community College’s Information Resources?
- Ways Community Colleges Can Support Mental Health
- Why Community College Presidents Should Invest in Student Support
- Why Clear, Actionable Next Steps Are So Necessary for Student Enrollment