Let’s Advocate for Student Parents: A Call to Action

As we celebrate the commitment and affection of paternal figures this June, it becomes crucial to shine a spotlight on a demographic that urgently requires assistance: student parents. Juggling academics alongside childcare, these parents are striving for better prospects for themselves and establishing a platform to uplift their families. Despite facing daunting odds within a higher education system that overlooks their distinct needs, they persevere.

More than twenty percent of undergraduate students in the United States, totaling about 3.7 million, are parents. However, only 37% of student parents complete their degrees within six years, in contrast to nearly 60% of non-parent peers.

In California, the proposed GAINS for Student Parents Act (Assembly Bill 2458) seeks to bridge this gap. This bill intends to revise student parents’ cost of attendance to accommodate childcare expenses and enhance data collection on student parents – two crucial components for identifying and addressing the unique challenges encountered by students with children.

During a recent conversation with a student parent on the verge of graduating, I delved into his journey. Larry, aged 40, is nurturing nine children, six of whom still reside with him. While an extraordinary achievement for any father, Larry managed to earn degrees in sociology and communications from CSU Bakersfield just in time for this year’s Father’s Day. Though his narrative is inspiring, it underscores the systemic shortcomings in higher education that render success stories like his all too scarce.

Larry encompasses multiple identities – father, veteran, and formerly incarcerated. These identities have exposed him to bias, stigma, and barriers to opportunities that his fellow campus peers may take for granted. His narrative mirrors that of others. A national survey revealed that 40% of student parents feel isolated on campus, while 20% feel unwelcome.

“My children have endured a lot. I bring them to campus while attending classes, but due to my age, people assume I have everything figured out. If there were facilities or activities for them on campus – what am I to do without childcare?” Larry shared.

According to a New America survey, nearly 40% of student parents who discontinued their college education cited caregiving responsibilities and academic workload as significant factors. However, the availability of on-campus childcare at colleges has diminished. When such care exists, lengthy waiting lists and exorbitant costs pose formidable barriers. This exacerbates the issue of time poverty, compelling student parents to make compromises that adversely affect their academic achievements and their children’s future prospects. The passage of the GAINS for Student Parents Act constitutes a crucial step in surmounting these hurdles.

While California has made advancements with legislation like AB 2881, enacted in 2022, which grants student parents priority registration for classes to accommodate their demanding schedules, there remains substantial room for enhancement.

The GAINS for Student Parents Act is poised to construct an educational system that uplifts families. The legislation seeks to streamline the financial aid application process across institutions, effecting automatic adjustments to the cost of attendance for student parents. These individuals, often first-generation students of color, shoulder additional financial burdens excluded from prevailing aid programs. Given the absence of a systematic identification approach for student parents by colleges and universities, the bill also endeavors to enhance data collection for more targeted assistance toward these students.

Jointly sponsored by the Michelson Center for Public Policy, alongside The California Alliance for Student Parent Success, Cal State Student Association, Generation Hope, and uAspire, this bill successfully progressed from the Assembly to the Senate, approved by the Senate Higher Education Committee. It now anticipates consideration in Senate Appropriations.

Reflecting on his impending graduation, Larry expressed, “I never imagined I’d reach this point. I’m in awe. Graduating with a degree – who would’ve thought? A college degree!”

Triumphant graduation stories like Larry’s on Father’s Day should be commonplace, free from undue challenges. Student parents exhibit resilience as they strive for their children’s betterment. As policymakers, leaders, administrators, and practitioners, how can we forge a more equitable system for parenting college students nationwide?

By supporting student-parent success, we ensure a bright future for their offspring and subsequent generations. This Father’s Day, how will you contribute to the movement ensuring every student father and parent receives the necessary support to thrive?

Queena Hoang serves as the senior program manager for Michelson 20MM Foundation’s Student Basic Needs Initiative. The initiative aims to confront the tangible costs of college, particularly the non-tuition expenses that place students in situations of housing instability, homelessness, food insecurity, and overall financial precariousness.

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