Data collection is crucial to propelling change for student-parents
Statistics show that single mothers in the state of California who earn an associate degree are 39% less likely to live in poverty. This number rises to 61% for those who obtain a bachelor’s degree. Despite such promising numbers, very little data exists on the number of student-parents in California.
“Forging Equitable Futures for Student Parents in California” was a statewide virtual summit, presented by California Competes, Blue Shield of California Foundation, the Michelson 20MM Foundation, Tipping Point Community, Ascend at the Aspen Institute and Education Trust. The convocation was intended to raise awareness of the challenges facing student-parents in California and inspire advocacy for policy changes and effective practices.
Keynote speaker Waukecha Wilkerson shared her journey to a bachelor’s degree and how it changed her life.
“I join you today to talk about forging an equitable future for student-parents in California,” said Wilkerson, now a paid employee and owner.
As of 2015, Wilkerson was a single mother with three children living downtown and receiving public assistance. Working seven days a week, she struggled to find quality daycare and even when she did, the cost was staggering. An internet search led her to the Self-Sufficiency Project, which noted childcare reimbursement for single mothers. The catch was that she had to be enrolled in at least two university courses. Thinking back to how she had failed a course at community college two decades earlier, it was with hesitation that Wilkerson signed up for two online courses.
The following semester, she applied to join the Self-Sufficiency Project. She was told what was expected of her: continuous registration, passing grades and quarterly checks. Then she learned what she could expect: childcare assistance, textbook reimbursement, scholarship opportunities, gas cards, Christmas where other families would sponsor her children, boxes food for Thanksgiving, summer activities for the kids, and back-to-school supplies.
“I had been living in my apartment complex for over a year and didn’t know anyone until I was introduced to my neighbors who were also single moms and student-parents,” Wilkerson said. “My community grew into a network of peers who were several steps ahead, inspiring me to follow them down a previously hidden path of successful student-parents.”
While the next five years were difficult, Wilkerson graduated. Leveraging resources and creating a network were key to its success. Unfortunately, many student-parents are invisible in colleges and universities. It is estimated that more than one-fifth of undergraduate students in the United States are parents. Student-parents are more likely to be people of color, women, over the age of 30, and first-generation college students. Forty percent of student parents report feeling isolated and 20% feel unwelcome on campus.
“Serving student-parents will help close equity gaps for populations that have historically been underserved by higher education,” said Dr. Su Jin Jez, executive director of California Competes, who presented an overview of the situation in the context of the session, titled, “A Political Agenda for California’s Student-Parents.” Meeting the needs of student-parents and charting a course to and through higher education “will create ripple effects for education and the economy,” she added,
Jez outlined four key reforms that California needs to address: increasing the availability of affordable, quality dependent child care; increase the affordability of higher education for student-parents; advancing the design of student-parent friendly schools and collecting and sharing student-parent data.
“We don’t have comprehensive student-parent data and we need it,” Jez said. “It’s really hard to advocate for and develop better policies, programs and services for student parents when we don’t have data on who student parents are and how they are doing in our system.”
Jez mentioned that one way to address the shortage of child care providers is to take advantage of learning and training programs in early care and education.
“It’s higher education that serves itself in some ways,” Jez said. “What we can do in terms of learning is leverage on-campus child care centers as learning and training sites for students in these programs. »
Dr. Sherrie Reed, executive director of the California Education Lab at the UC Davis School of Education, spoke about some of the “very limited data” available on student-parents in California.
“What we do know is that student-parents juggle a lot of responsibilities,” Reed said. “In a national survey of 23,000 student-parents, which is the largest student-parent survey I know of, we find that student-parents spend 40 hours per week on academic activities, including attending classes and complete homework, but also 40 hours. a week on parenting, which leaves very little time for social activities or seeking extra academic support or attending campus events.
The demands lead to high levels of depression, anxiety and stress, Reed noted. This in turn contributes to low persistence and college completion.
“Despite the challenges, we see the number of student parents growing in our country and state, up nearly 30 percent between 2004 and 2012, when the last national estimate was calculated,” Reed said. .
Recently, Reed and his colleagues began a study of student-parents in California using two data sources: financial aid filers and CalWORKS data from the Community College Chancellor’s Office. They found that about 13.4% of financial aid applicants in any given year are student parents. Of these student-parents, 72% attend community college. They are mostly female, African American and older.
“We think it’s imperative that we have systems in place that can identify parents of students and collect data, both at the local and state level,” Reed said. “This is what allows us to serve student-parents.
“We need to improve availability and access to resources and support, and increase awareness of financial assistance,” she added. “Finally, we believe it may be important to consider the inclusion of student-parents as a sub-group for supplemental funding and other student-centered funding formulas so that community college campuses be encouraged to identify and support this important subgroup of students.”