Student parents
Colleges and universities should do more to support student parents. Source: Shutterstock

The archetypal college student in the US is a high school leaver, between 18-24 years old and with little to no commitments. Most policies and initiatives are geared towards those with such characteristics. But there are other types of students pursuing higher education in the US; one is the student parent.

These individuals attend college at the same time as raising children, forming a group that makes up more than one in five undergraduate students.

Though they only make up an estimated 22 percent of undergraduates, according to Department of
Education (Education) data, it is a significant minority that should not be ignored by US colleges and the state.

Here are five interesting facts and figures about these non-traditional students:

1. More than half are single parents

An estimated 55 percent of student parents raise their children alone. Single mothers number nearly 2.1 million today, and are mostly of women of colour.

Only one in seven white women are single mothers in college. However, among black and Latinas, the figures are two in five and one in five respectively. These student parents face “insurmountable odds to finishing their degrees”. Data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) found that only eight percent of single mothers who start college earn an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years.

2. Nearly half work full-time

Government data show that 64 percent of student parents attend school part-time, with another 44 percent working full-time while enrolled. A 2010/11 survey revealed that most student parents in this group were female and older than 25. Half were white (52 percent), with smaller numbers of African American and Hispanic students (24.9 percent and 18.1 percent respectively)

These students have to manage complex schedules that merge supporting a family, education and training in addition to employment. The majority of low-income student parents (91.6 percent) worked one job, though some 8.4 percent claimed to work two jobs.

3. They have fewer financial resources to fund their education

The US federal financial aid and loan repayment systems do not sufficiently serve the needs of these groups compared to other developed economies. There are no additional provisions in the Pell Grant programme for student parents unlike Finland’s study grant system, for example, which awards an additional 75 euros per month—about US$84 or US$672 over an eight-month academic year.

Meanwhile, Germany provides 130 euros per month—about US$145 or US$1,160 per academic year—for each child under age 10. The Canada financial aid system provides up to US$1,600 per child or US$200 per month, each academic year to full-time students who have dependents younger than 12.

4. Nearly half pay for childcare averaging US$490 a month

Childcare, or a lack of quality and affordable options, is one of the biggest barriers for student parents. They pay an average of US$490 monthly for someone to take care of their kids while they’re at school, a figure that sometimes costs more than the cost of tuition.

And even when funds are available, there’s still the problem of finding childcare for student parents who attend night classes.

A recent report by the US Government Accountability Office also found that schools often aren’t giving student parents information that could help them access untapped federal money to pay for child care. It found that two-thirds of those schools did not mention on their websites that students could apply for more aid to help pay for child care.

5. They are likely to leave college without a degree

With all these barriers, it’s unsurprising that student parents have a lower graduation rate than non-parents. US national data reveal that despite student parents having higher GPAs on average, they are 10 times less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree within five years than students who don’t have children.

Not having enough time for schoolwork is the main reason for dropping out, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Higher Education.

“We found that students with preschool-aged children had only about 10 hours per day left over — after paid work, housework and child care — to fit in sleeping, eating, leisure activities and schoolwork. Compare that to students with no children, who had roughly 21 hours for the same tasks,” the researchers wrote in Hechinger Report.

“Although roughly two-thirds of student-parents we surveyed did not feel that available child care provided them the time they needed to complete their schoolwork, around three-quarters of them were on financial aid, which suggests that existing financial aid is insufficient to pay for necessary child care to provide time for schoolwork.”

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