Innovation Award Winner: The Program Evaluation & Research Group (PERG) at Endicott College

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Joan Karp, Senior Research Associate, Endicott College

January 18, 2019

The Family Friendly Campus Toolkit: Using Data to Improve Outcomes

Do you know how many students at your school are raising dependent children? Most schools do not.

Most schools do not collect any data--

  • About student parents
  • From student parents
  • About or from services specifically designed for student parents


Parents of dependent children are an important at-risk student population, but they are generally invisible at most colleges and universities, especially 4-year institutions.  Although highly motivated, they represent a large number of students who drop out, stop out, or never enroll in postsecondary programs at all, often because of the barriers posed by their parenting status. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), students raising dependent children are one-quarter of all undergraduate students and have very low graduation rates—only 17.4% of student parents in public and private not-for profit schools graduate with baccalaureate degrees in 6 years and only 26% of student parents in community colleges attain a degree or certificate in 6 years. The 6-year completion rate for single mothers in associate or bachelor’s degree programs is just 8%.  (See IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative for extensive research on student 

Parenting status can intensify other retention risk factors, such as being low income, members of racial minority groups, and first-generation college students.  While institutions of higher education identify many at-risk groups, providing targeted services for students from those populations, they rarely recognize or address the additional barriers faced by students who are also parenting. The lack of data about parenting students helps to ensure that they and their issues remain unaddressed.

The Family Friendly Campus Toolkit identifies important data sources and provides data collection tools that can lead to better conditions for student parents, increasing the likelihood that they will persist to graduation. It offers guidance on a self-assessment process that results in (more) data about parenting students and their experiences on campus, including information about challenges and needs that arise specifically from their status as parents. It also includes a list of recommended practices currently implemented by different institutions around the country. Finally, the Toolkit encourages the development of evidence-based plans to improve conditions and outcomes for student parents and their children.

For instance, institutional data related to parenting students can be difficult to attain, either because it is not collected or because access is not granted. Furthermore, many student parents are transfer students, a group that may not be included in institutional reporting on retention and graduation rates. However, with some effort, advocates can often collect helpful institutional data about this population. The Toolkit provides a list of demographic and academic data points that, if collected, would provide a description of the population and enable an analysis of the academic progress and retention rates of student parents. Collection of these data points for the institution as a whole would enable a comparison of the status of student parents to all students.

Data from using any or all the instruments and suggestions in the Toolkit can provide a rare glimpse into the lives, experiences, and needs of student parents on campus. Publicizing this data can be critical to garnering resources for improving academic outcomes of this population.

The Family Friendly Campus Toolkit consists of the following sections:

  1. Getting Started
    1. Self-Assessment Process
    2.  Task Force Guidelines 
    3. IRB & Survey Guidance
  2. Collecting Data
    1. Profile of Existing Resources & Policies
    2. Rubric for Self-Assessment (based on recommended practices)
    3. Institutional Data
    4. Student Survey
    5. Focus Groups
  3. Making Sense & Moving Forward
    1. Simple Data Analysis Guide
    2. Action Plan
    3. Background Research

There are many steps that schools can take, before, during, and after the data collection process to address barriers to success faced by student parents, including some that do not require additional funding—

  • Collect, track, compare, and report on the demographics and academic progress of student parents, including transfer and returning students
  • Give students opportunities to disclose parental status after acceptance
  • Implement a self-assessment process using the Family Friendly Campus Toolkit
  • Convene a task force
  • Provide a trained staff person for student parent issues with designated responsibility and resources
  • Offer a space and activities to support community building among student parents
  • Ensure a clear policy for requesting accommodations
  • Enact institutional policies providing fair access, such as early course registration; apply policies for staff and faculty parents to student parents
  • Understand Title IX protections for pregnant and post-partum women and ensure they are implemented campus-wide
  • Create student parent programs similar to those for other at-risk populations
  • Find or be a champion to ensure institutional support

Schools that have utilized the Toolkit have implemented a variety of additional changes as well, depending on the particular circumstances at each institution. These include: more coordination among those providing services; increased advertising and better access to information about existing services and supports for parenting students; new collaborations with off-campus and public services; a new emergency grant fund for parenting students; training for faculty and staff on Title IX requirements affecting pregnant and post-partum women; child-friendly library study spaces; a gathering space for student parents; free child care provided at student events; and more programming and visibility for student parents. At least one school used the data they collected using the Toolkit to successfully apply for a CCAMPIS grant. Many are beginning to use their new data and alliances for advocacy on bigger, more challenging campus issues. As the Program Coordinator for the Los Angeles Valley College Family Resource Center, Amber Angel, stated—“Everything good we’ve done in the past two years towards student parent support, I can trace back to the Toolkit.”

The entire Toolkit is available as a free download at PERG will be undertaking a revision of the materials, and a new version will be available in spring, 2020. Contact Joan Karp at [email protected] for more information.

Interested in being considered for the 2019 Innovation Award or know colleagues who are doing awesome innovative work? You can find detailed information about the award on the Knowledge Community Awards Page. You can also find the application page HERENominations are due March 31, 2019.

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