Joan Karp, Senior Research Associate, Endicott College
January 18, 2019
Do you know how many students at your school are raising dependent children? Most schools do not.
Most schools do not collect any data--
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 parents--www.iwpr.org)
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:
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—
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 familyfriendlycampustoolkit.endicott.edu. 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.
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