When Your College Roommate is a Baby

April 20, 2017

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

By Jessica Landgraf

At the end of last week, The Chronicle of Higher Education released a special report titled “College, With Kids.” This report is a collection of four articles focused on the increasing number of college students who have young children and the unique challenges they face. While there are several colleges across the country which have instituted programs to address the specific needs of single parents, most universities have limited resources available to help parents financially or to help them access information. Considering that 4.8 million college students are raising children (30% of the community college population and 15% of the 4-year undergraduate population), this is an issue that shouldn’t be ignored. The title of “non-traditional” student, which is often applied to these types of students, is also becoming something of a misnomer. Addressing the needs of these students is important as they are less likely to finish a degree or certificate within 6 years of enrollment (only 33% do). Furthermore, enrollment of student parents increased by 50% between 1995 and 2011, meaning that this is a long-term trend that continues to hold. As evaluated in a 2017 report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, this increase is happening across all regions and institution types. Institutions of higher education should take note of this information and discuss how their current support systems could be improved.

Good Examples: Hard to Come By, Even Harder to Maintain

There are several colleges that have been leading the way in providing supportive environments for parents and specifically single parents. One example is Endicott College, which developed the “Keys to Degrees” program. This program provides:

  • Year round on campus housing with shared cooking and laundry facilities with other single parent students.
  • Assistance accessing childcare
  • Parenting workshops
  • Counseling services
  • Mentoring program

But these types of programs are few and far between. Colleges that implement these programs have found it hard to maintain the level of funding required to provide all the wraparound services. Eastern Michigan University, Ferris State University, and Dillard University all replicated the “Keys to Degrees” program, but were financially unable to maintain all of the services involved.

A Place to Start

One crucial element to a parent’s ability to attend college is childcare, and unfortunately campus childcare is becoming less and less available. Since 2002, there has been a steady decline of childcare on public 4-year and community college campuses. Less than half of all campuses now have childcare available on campus. While policymakers should already be focusing on childcare access and affordability, higher education institutions should be aware of the issues surrounding childcare on their campuses, especially given that it affects a quarter of all undergraduates nationwide. Campuses could alternatively think about partnering with local childcare providers that could benefit from professional development in exchange for discounted rates for student parents or expanded services on campus. Unfortunately, like most things, there is no cheap solution. Any program to better support student parents is going to have an impact on the overall budget of an institution and programs of significant cost are likely out of the question for most universities.   But one thing higher education institutions can do is to look into what their state already makes available to student parents. Sometimes helping a student parent is as simple as helping connect them with resources that are already available. Centers, like Michigan State’s Family Resource Center, can be an invaluable source of information and support.

Contact Jessica: landgr16@msu.edu