Students with children are frequently neglected or marginalized in higher education. As Nicole Lynn Lewis reported for Washington Monthly in October 2019, “The barriers to college completion for student parents are formidable.” Nationally, nearly four million parenting students attend college, accounting for 22 percent of all undergraduate students in the United States, according to a 2019 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Nevertheless, Lewis described how, on many campuses, student parents are “a largely invisible population” who are not expected to graduate.
Her report drew on her own experiences as a student parent at William & Mary College and as director of a nonprofit that aids student parents, and on studies of student parents. This research indicates that less than two percent of teen mothers earn their college degrees before the age of thirty, and they are ten times less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree in five years—even though, on average, student parents post higher GPAs than their non-parenting peers.
Lewis reported that “particular interventions and supports can have a powerful impact on college completion,” including day care, improved financial aid, and courses offered online or in the evening. However, she noted, “fewer than half of four-year public colleges and community colleges provide on-campus childcare,” according to a 2016 Institute for Women’s Policy briefing paper. Nevertheless, offering high-quality childcare on campus is, Lewis wrote, “an opportunity for colleges to support two generations at once—the parents and the children—and is an investment in the overall completion rate for their students.”
For campuses that cannot afford to offer daycare programs, Lewis reported that stipends for private care are “ultimately less expensive than managing childcare services on campus.”
After graduating from William & Mary and going on to earn a master’s degree in public policy at George Mason University, Lewis founded a nonprofit, Generation Hope, whose mission is to help student parents to graduate. Established in 2010, Generation Hope now serves approximately 100 student parents attending two- and four-year colleges in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
A lack of understanding of student parents’ specific needs leads to a deficit in campus resources that ultimately inhibits those students’ abilities to graduate. Schools seeking to meet the needs of their students who are parents should consider flexible schedules, child care on campus ,and more facilities for student parents, such as changing tables and nursing rooms. This would show these student parents that their success both in their schooling and parenting is important to the school.
As of February 26, 2020 corporate media outlets have not covered this story. Real Clear Policy republished Lewis’s report for Washington Monthly.
Source: Nicole Lynn Lewis, “The Invisible Student on Campus,” Washington Monthly, October 16, 2019, https://washingtonmonthly.com/2019/10/16/the-invisible-students-on-campus/.
Student Researchers: Morgan Padilla, Jessica Foertsch, Yanira Soto, Rhianna Bostian (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (Sonoma State University)