Leveraging Policy to Support Student-Parents

A significant portion of community college students have at least one dependent child and would benefit from greater support on campus.

Given that 30 percent of community college students have a dependent child, it is essential that campus and policy leaders take steps to meet these students’ needs.[1] Many community colleges are already taking such action. Expanding existing initiatives and developing new strategies to welcome student parents can increase their success in school, strengthen their prospects for attaining a job with family-sustaining wages, and benefit the next generation. Helping students secure child care is one of several strategies that can help community college students succeed. We offer a few key recommendations for college leaders to improve support measures for student parents:

Create links to economic, community, and health services benefits.

Student parents—especially those who are single—are often eligible for economic benefits and tax programs, but many who qualify for these benefits do not receive them. Some institutions are addressing this gap through programs that coordinate access to benefits. These programs train staff to understand the needs of low-income students, refer students to on- and off-campus resources, provide screening for a range of government resources, and cultivate strong connections to community and state administrators of child care subsidies, work supports, and cash assistance.

Help student parents secure affordable housing.

For many low-income student parents, finding affordable and safe housing can be a challenge. According to a 2011 IWPR Survey of Student Parent Support Programs, nearly half (47 percent) of two-year institution respondents reported that their program or organization offers housing assistance for students with children. Some programs have developed community-based partnerships to provide residential opportunities for single parents that include a range of services—such as counseling, an on-site child development center, case management, academic advising, and family support services.

Advocate for federal policy changethat strengthens support for students with children.

Community college leaders can push for policy change that improves federal and state supports for student parents. Eliminating restrictions on student parents’ eligibility to Child Care Development and Block Grant-funded child care subsidies; incorporating child care into supports provided by workforce development, career pathways, and career and technical education programs; and establishing policies that encourage greater institutional support and attention to the student parent population. These steps, among other changes, could have a dramatic effect on the success of parents pursuing higher education.

Higher education is key to family economic security and children’s success, and ensuring that student parents have access to affordable, quality child care and other support measures that benefit both student parents and their children must become a higher priority for educational institutions, higher education advocates, and policymakers. As colleges increasingly close campus child care centers, articulating the role that child care plays in the educational outcomes of student parents becomes especially important considering the heightened national focus on increasing degree attainment. With almost one in three community college students juggling school and caring for dependent children, it is critical that campus and policy leaders take proactive steps to identify and support student parents. By making community colleges more welcoming to student parents and helping them access resources that support their educational goals, colleges can increase their attainment rates and contribute to improving economic outcomes for families and communities. Even small changes can make a difference in student parents’ lives and their graduation rates.

This post is an adapted excerpt from “The Family-Friendly Campus Imperative,” presented at last year’s ACCT Leadership Congress Symposium. If you would like to attend this year’s symposium on September 24-25 in Las Vegas, please contact Colleen Allen at or 202-775-6490. Space is limited.

[1] IWPR analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011–12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study and the Integrated Postsecondary Aid Survey (IPEDS).

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