A young mother wrote me some time ago asking if there were any Mothers’ Centers on college campuses. She wanted to connect with students who were also raising children, facing coursework and degree requirements at the same time. I regrettably had to say no, not yet. I had no idea how many student/parents there were, or how much support they needed, until I attended a briefing this week to usher in a new report, Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents. Produced by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the Student Parent Success Initiative, the report gathers information for the first time ever about the number of undergrads at 2 and 4 year postsecondary schools who have children, and how many of those schools offer on-campus child care. Among the surprising things I learned:
- Nearly one-quarter of US undergraduates, or 3.9 million, are parents, half of them raising their children alone.
- Student/parents are more likely to be working full-time while enrolled, and the schools they attend have no idea that they are parents because parental status is not tracked.
- They disproportionately come from low income or otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds, and are the first in their families to pursue education beyond high school.
- More student/parents are mothers, whether single or married. Student/parents have a higher dropout rate, at 50%, than the general undergraduate population, at 31%.
- The majority of student/parents attend community college or private, for-profit schools, which ironically are the least likely to offer on-site child care.
- Four year public universities are the most likely to offer it, however, the recession’s impact on state budgets has made many public universities have reduced their costs accordingly, many closing on-site child care in recent years.
There has been a “crisis of care” in the US for many years now, as access to affordable, quality care is severely limited across all income and educational levels. The situation on campus is even worse. A scant 17% of post-secondary institutions offer child care. Only 5% of children who need on-campus care currently have it, yet access to child care is the most crucial factor when it comes to a student/parent actually graduating. Education continues to be the primary path to economic security, yet a lack of child care can derail even the most committed student. There is no question that the educational status of the mother is closely tied to the welfare of her child. If we want stable and secure families, an optimal workforce, and a strong economy, removing the roadblocks between parents and higher education is what we must do.
Today’s student population is more diverse than ever before, yet the education system hasn’t changed at the same rate. Funds for tuition are harder to come by, as personal savings have withered and public resources dried up. Students commonly work, and those who are parents need child care that allows them to do both. Class schedules may not mesh with business hours for student employment or child care centers. Additionally, grants to both institutions and students often limit their use to education only, or severely restrict the portion that may be dedicated to child care. Harmonizing the need for accessible, high quality child care at academic institutions means more graduates, greater economic security, and a better workforce and stronger national economy. It benefits families and communities. Millions of children are spending millions of hours in the care of adults besides their parents. This could be a tremendous opportunity to prepare them for their own primary education, as well as offer support and resources to their parents.