Report Examines Degree Completion for Parents with Young Children - Higher Education
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Report Examines Degree Completion for Parents with Young Children

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After paid work, childcare and other responsibilities, a college student with preschool-aged children has, on average, about 10 hours left per day to sleep, eat, relax and complete schoolwork, leaving the student parent less likely to complete their degree, according to a study examining the impact of student parenting status on college degree completion.

In “No Time for College? An Investigation of Time Poverty and Parenthood,” the study’s researchers noted that gaps in completion outcomes for student parents largely stemmed from the significant amount of time they spend on childcare, while also working to support their families.

Dr. Claire Wladis

“There’s a need for additional childcare, but this is partially a financial issue, too,” said Dr. Claire Wladis, professor of mathematics at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and an education researcher. “Many students would work fewer hours if they could, but they don’t receive enough financial aid to be able to reduce the hours that they’re working in order to pay for the costs of things their family needs like food and housing because financial aid only covers, in theory, the cost of the students themselves and not their families.”

As lead author of the report, Wladis worked with Dr. Alyse Hachey, associate professor of early childhood education at the University of Texas at El Paso, and Dr. Katherine Conway, professor of business management at BMCC, to analyze survey and transcript data from 15,385 students at two- and four-year colleges in the City University of New York system.

Findings from the semester-long study revealed that college students with young children were twice as likely to drop out of college than childless peers. If these students did persist, they accumulated fewer course credits each semester than non-parent peers, the report found.

Where student parents only had 10 hours remaining each day for themselves, childless college students had approximately 21 hours available for sleeping, eating, leisure and homework, the study indicated.

Previous research has shown the educational and economic benefits of college-completion for student parents. However, time and finances continue to be barriers for student parents such as the ones surveyed in Wladis and her colleagues’ study.

Nearly two-thirds of student parents surveyed said that available childcare did not provide them with enough time to complete coursework, and of that group, roughly 75 percent were on financial aid. This finding suggested that current financial aid models are insufficient in helping student parents pay for childcare to complete school-related work, the report said.

The researchers recommended in their study that improvement in financial aid systems and a greater investment in on-campus childcare centers or programs could make a progressive impact on student parents’ completion rates.

Currently, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) does not ask about the number of dependents a student has, nor does it take into account a student parent’s overall childcare costs, thus leaving colleges sometimes unaware of a student’s remaining financial need.

Childcare expenses “can’t even be automatically included [in financial aid awards] because colleges don’t get the information they need from the FAFSA to do that,” Wladis said. “Even minor changes like that could better reflect the needs of student parents who we perceive as nontraditional, but are becoming a larger and larger minority of students.”

At the institutional level, the researchers see a growing interest and attempt to provide comprehensive childcare and support services to student parents at community colleges and four-year institutions.

For instance, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, student parents can access the Children’s Learning Center. At BMCC – Wladis and Conway’s institution – student parents have the Early Childhood Center.

The Early Childhood Center provides a supportive Parents Club, it offers evening, weekday and weekend childcare programs and it provides additional wraparound support to address food, housing or other childcare concerns that a student has.

Most of the successful programs that support student parents entail a “fairly streamlined process” where students do not have to independently “cobble together a bunch of different resources to make stuff work,” Wladis said, noting that some institutions or programs may have a referral person to assist student parents, while a specific program may have sufficient childcare available for students participating in that particular program.

In addition to revised financial aid formulas and more high-quality, low-cost childcare for student parents in college, an increase in federal or state funding for on-campus childcare is needed, Wladis added.

“I think that’s really critical and that would be one of the best ways to provide support,” she said.

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at tpennamon@diverseeducation.com. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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