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Student Parent Success Initiative

About the Student Parent Success Initiative

Most college students are now “nontraditional” and 26 percent of college students have children. To make dramatic increases in the number of students with postsecondary credentials, which the president has identified as a crucial step in strengthening the U.S. economy, we must make supports such as child care available to student parents. Recent IWPR research shows that community colleges have only 1 child care slot for every ten students who need services.

IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI) focuses on supporting students with dependent children who are pursuing college. The project involves research, tool-building, technical assistance, public education, and networking advocates among policymakers, and practitioners invested in the success of student parents in postsecondary education.

The project’s primary goals are to:

  • Raise awareness and educate institutional leaders and policymakers on the need for and importance of student parent supports to achieve the goal of increasing postsecondary participation and graduation rates within the United States;
  • Improve public policies and resources that encourage and provide support for low-income parents to achieve postsecondary credentials; and,
  • Increase knowledge-sharing about how to replicate and expand successful support programs that assist low-income parents to achieve postsecondary credentials.

IWPR’s role is to serve as a nexus for information by:

  • Networking and informing policy makers and advocates by organizing convenings facilitating online networking, and engaging policymakers and thought leaders to inform public policies;
  • Conducting and commissioning research on resources and supports that help student parents succeed in postsecondary education; and,
  • Informing practice and inspiring investment by creating toolkits, trainings, and other materials for wide distribution.


Student Parent Program Finder

Student Parent Success Initiative Newsletter

IWPR Student Parent Survey

Also visit our external resources page for more information on this topic.

Latest Reports from IWPR

Mothers in College Have Declining Access to On-Campus Child Care
by Institute for Women's Policy Research (May 2016)

As Mother’s Day approaches, the 3.4 million mothers in college are performing a complicated balancing act. According to new IWPR analysis, availability of on-campus child care continued to decline in 2014, with just half of public four-year institutions providing on-campus child care services, down from a high of 55 percent in 2003-05 (Figure 1). At community colleges, where the largest share of parents are enrolled, only 45 percent report having an on-campus center, down from over half (53 percent) in 2003-04 (Figure 1). Given the importance of a higher education to a family’s economic security and their children’s future success, ensuring that student mothers have access to affordable, quality care must be a priority for educational institutions, higher education advocates, and policymakers.


The Role of the Federal Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) Program in Supporting Student Parent Success
by Mary Sykes, Lindsey Reichlin, and Barbara Gault (February 2016)

Affordable, quality child care is crucial to the postsecondary success of the 4.8 million undergraduate students raising dependent children. Despite the growing number of postsecondary students who are parents, campus-based child care has been declining in recent years.


Research & Policy Update: Student Parents & Access to Child Care at Community Colleges
by Lindsey Reichlin (May 2015)

Power Point presentation from Student Parent Support Symposium session on "Current Student Parent Research & Policy Efforts"


Supporting Student Parent Success in Community Colleges
by Lindsey Reichlin (October 2015)

Power Point presentation from Women's Funding Network Conference workshop "Powerful Partnerships: Foundations and Community Colleges".


Reproductive Health and Women’s Educational Attainment: Women’s Funds’ Strategies to Improve Outcomes for Women
by Lindsey Reichlin, M.A., and Justine Augeri, Ph.D. (October 2015)

This paper offers an overview of the significance and status of access to reproductive health rights and services in the United States today. It focuses particularly on how expanding access to family planning methods and information can improve young women’s prospects for economic security in adulthood, largely through access to education. In addition to addressing the need for reproductive services to promote women’s educational attainment, the report discusses how to support college students who already have children, and profiles the efforts of women’s funds to ensure access to services that promote reproductive health and allow low-income parents to attend and succeed at postsecondary education.


4.8 Million College Students are Raising Children
by Barbara Gault, Lindsey Reichlin, Elizabeth Reynolds, and Meghan Froehner (November 2014)

Over a quarter (26 percent) of all undergraduate students, or 4.8 million students, are raising dependent children. Women are disproportionately likely to be balancing college and parenthood, many without the support of a spouse or partner. Women make up 71 percent of all student parents, and roughly 2 million students, or 43 percent of the total student parent population, are single mothers. Single student fathers make up 11 percent of the student parent population.


Campus Child Care Declining Even As Growing Numbers of Parents Attend College
by Barbara Gault, Lindsey Reichlin, Elizabeth Reynolds, and Meghan Froehner (November 2014)

Affordable, reliable child care is a crucial support for the 4.8 million college students raising dependent children, but is often tough to find. High child care costs, difficulty obtaining subsidies, and scheduling challenges often create significant obstacles for student parents, and may contribute to their relatively low rates of college completion. Postsecondary systems can play an important role in promoting college success by helping student parents locate and pay for the child care they need to succeed in school


Community College Students Need Fair Job Scheduling Practices
by Lindsey Reichlin, Barbara Gault, Ph.D. (July 2014)

Working is often critical to community college students’ ability to pursue a postsecondary education, but holding a job while in school can threaten a student’s success in college. For students to succeed at both school and work, they need jobs with predictable schedules and they need to have a say in scheduling so that work does not conflict with classes. This is especially important for students who are also parents, who must often schedule child care in addition to work and school.

Preview not available

Pathways to Postsecondary Education for Pregnant and Parenting Teens
by Cynthia B. Costello, Ph.D. (June 2014)

This report examines trends in educational attainment for pregnant and parenting teens, as well as programmatic approaches and policy initiatives for improving their high school completion and college enrollment rates. This report is a product of IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative, a multifaceted project designed to share knowledge, raise awareness, and improve public policies to support positive outcomes for low-income student parents seeking higher education.


Securing a Better Future: A Portrait of Female Students in Mississippi’s Community Colleges
by Cynthia Hess, Ph.D., Sylvia Krohn, Lindsey Reichlin, Stephanie Román, and Barbara Gault, Ph.D. (June 2014)

This report presents findings from a survey of female community college students in Mississippi conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) and commissioned by the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi. The survey is designed to identify supports and practices that can help women succeed in community college and attain economic security. It explores women’s motivations for pursuing college, their personal and career goals, their support needs, and the economic, health, and time challenges that they experience. The survey was designed as a part of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s Student Parent Success Initiative, which provides information and tools to promote the success of student parents in postsecondary education.


College Affordability for Low-Income Adults: Improving Returns on Investment for Families and Society
by Barbara Gault, Ph.D., Lindsey Reichlin, M.A., Stephanie Román (April 2014)

This report was prepared by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) as a part of a series of papers on defining college affordability sponsored by the Lumina Foundation. The report examines how efforts to understand and improve college affordability can be informed by the experiences and circumstances of low-income adults, students of color, and students with dependent children.


Defining College Affordability for Low-Income Adults
by Barbara Gault (November 2013)

PowerPoint presentation on "Defining College Affordability for low-income adults: Improving returns on investment for families and society" prepared for the Lumina Foundation's Authors Conference.

Preview not available

College Students with Children are Common and Face Many Challenges in Completing Higher Education Summary
by Bethany Nelson, Megan Froehner, and Barbara Gault, Ph.D. (March 2013)

The role of parenthood in postsecondary outcomes needs greater focus from the higher education reform community. Unless the care-giving responsibilities of low-income adults are actively acknowledged and addressed, efforts to improve postsecondary access and completion for low-income adults, be they through online learning, improved on-ramps, developmental education, institutional accountability, financial aid, or curriculum reform, are likely to fall short of their full potential for change. Colleges, universities, and their surrounding communities must take steps to help students succeed in their work as both students and parents.


Student Parents and Financial Aid
by Mark Huelsman and Jennifer Engle, Institute for Higher Education Policy (July 2013)

This brief aims to explain the circumstances of student parents – particularly vis-á-vis the financial aid system – as well as detail major federal programs that could impact student parents’ college-going experience. Given that this population makes up around 1 in 4 students in higher education, it is important that these programs are better understood, utilized, and improved upon where needed.

Preview not available

Prepping Colleges for Parents: Strategies for Supporting Student Parent Success in Postsecondary Education
by Rachel Schumacher (July 2013)

This brief is a product of the Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI) at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). It provides a framework for thinking about the range of supports student parents typically need and example programs. It draws from information and lessons learned collected by IWPR from initiatives supporting student parents at two- and four-year colleges and universities across the country. SPSI resources may be used to inform the decisions of leaders on campuses, in communities, and among policymakers to promote better success rates and stronger families for student parents in postsecondary education. This paper was first published in 2013 as a working paper and later updated in 2015.


Financing Child Care for College Student Success
by Todd Boressoff (June 2013)

This toolkit provides information about a wide range of funding sources for campus-based child care. It is intended as a resource for early care and education programs, institutions of higher learning, advocates, and policymakers. In addition to descriptions of each resource, it contains over a hundred links to websites of relevant organizations. It is designed as a guide for those seeking to provide quality child care for colleges and university students, considering how to strengthen and expand existing services, or hoping to build networks of support for students with children and other parents on campus.

#G719, Toolkit, 44 pages

Education Data Show Gender Gap in Career Preparation
by National Coalition of Women and Girls in Education and the National Coalition on Women, Jobs and Job Training (March 2013)

This report was prepared as a summary of an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity, the National Women’s Law Center, and Wider Opportunities for Women, under the auspices of the National Coalition of Women and Girls in Education and the National Coalition on Women, Jobs and Job Training.


The Pregnancy Assistance Fund as a Support for Student Parents in Postsecondary Education
by Rhiana Gunn-Wright (July 2012)

The Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) is a competitive grant program created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that provides funding to states and tribes to support programs that provide pregnant and parenting women and girls with supportive services to help them complete high school or postsecondary degrees (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2010a). Only two states, Minnesota and Virginia, have used their PAF grants to provide services related to postsecondary institutions. This fact sheet describes several of the programs and initiatives created by these PAF grantees. Unless otherwise noted, all program information comes from interviews with program officials and staff.


Community College Partnerships for Student and Career Success: Program Profile of Carreras en Salud
by Jane Henrici, Ph.D. (June 2012)

Postsecondary students with children often need an array of supports to succeed in their studies, which can require significant coordination among new and existing services (Conway, Blair, and Helmer 2012; Henrici n.d.; Miller, Gault, and Thorman 2011). Such supports might include financial aid, academic and career counseling, job placement assistance, transportation, housing, child care, and classes in English-as-a-Second Language. To more effectively provide an expanded range of student resources, community colleges often partner with local nonprofits, private businesses and foundations, and government institutions (Altstadt 2011; Bragg et al. 2007; Bray, Painter, and Rosen 2011; Conway, Blair, and Helmer 2012; Leutz 2007; Singh 2007; Wilson 2010). This fact sheet describes Carreras en Salud (“Careers in Health”), a career pathway program that scholars and advocates have elevated as a promising model for providing comprehensive supports through multiple partnerships with city colleges in Chicago.


Housing Resources and Programs for Single Student Parents at Community and Technical Colleges
by Abby Thorman, Ph.D., Jessica Otto, and Rhiana Gunn-Wright (May 2012)

Parents with dependent children now make up almost one in four students pursuing higher education in the United States (Miller, Gault and Thorman 2011). Single parents face particular challenges pursuing higher education, including securing safe and affordable housing. Single mothers often must spend over half of their income on housing expenses, leaving them with less money for educational expenses and vulnerable to housing crises that can easily derail their pursuit of a degree (Bush 2010). An analysis of effective strategies to support single student parents identifies affordable housing as one of the most important factors to ensuring student success (Women Employed 2011). This brief highlights a number of community-based organizations that offer housing and other support to single student parents pursuing postsecondary education at community college—where a majority of single student parents attend college—and/or job training, as well as some community colleges that offer on-campus housing for single student parents. Information for the program descriptions was gathered either from the program’s website or follow-up conversations with program staff. Recommendations for community colleges are outlined at the conclusion of this brief.

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