College and Universities Are Failing Their Student Mothers

In September of 2017, the video of Henry Musoma, a professor at Texas A&M University, holding a student’s baby during a lecture went viral. The student, Ashton Robinson, was unable to find childcare for her son and asked Dr. Musoma if she could meet with him another day to catch up on the material she would miss. Dr. Musoma told Ms. Robinson to bring her son to class and proceeded to hold him throughout the lecture so that she could focus on the material.

 

When Ms. Robinson posted about her experience on social media, people from all over the country celebrated Dr. Musoma’s kindness and support for the young mother. He was even invited to be a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres Show along with Ms. Robinson,where she was awarded a check for $10,000 to help her get through school.[1]

 

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Ms. Robinson’s case is not unique. Although many institutions do not track how many of their students have caregiving responsibilities, based on best national estimates, a quarter of all college students in the United States are raising children. Of those students, around 72 percent are women.[2] 44 percent of student parents are raising children alone, and of the single student parents, 80 percent are women.[3] Almost half of all Black female undergraduate students are mothers.[4]

 

Many single student mothers hold full-time jobs in addition to attending school and still struggle to make ends meet. One estimate indicated that 89 percent of single student mothers are classified as low-income.[5]

 

Despite the relatively large size of the student parent demographic, they remain invisible to the institutions they attend. The most significant barrier student parents, and particularly single mothers, face is inadequate access to childcare.

 

For most student parents, the cost of private childcare is untenable. A study found that in 31 states and Washington D.C., the annual cost of childcare is greater than the cost of a year of tuition at the state’s 4-year public university.[6] Low-income families are particularly hard-pressed to find affordable care and spend an average of 40 percent of their monthly income on childcare.[7] This is an unbearable cost for most students with children, and especially single mothers.

 

On-campus childcare facilities often offer a less expensive alternative to off-site childcare centers, although parents are usually still required to pay a substantial monthly sum.[8] Unfortunately, many student parents are unable to access on-campus childcare facilities because they are full, have restrictive policies, or simply do not exist.

 

After all, many student parents attend colleges or universities that do not provide on-campus childcare. Only around half of institutions of higher education offer childcare for students and the number of on-campus facilities has declined in the last decade.[9]

 

Even when student parents attend a campus that provides on-site childcare, it is unlikely that they will be able to access the services. Data show that on-campus facilities only have the capacity to serve five percent of the need and waitlists average over 80 children.[10]

 

Many on-campus childcare centers also have restrictions on the ages of children they will accept. Parents with children under age two have particular difficulty in finding access to on-campus care, as do parents looking for after school programs for their older children.[11]

 

Inadequate access to childcare for student parents is a significant barrier to success, especially for single mothers. This lack of institutional support frequently leads to poor educational outcomes for students with children. While around half of students enrolled in college earn a degree within six years, only a third of students with children complete a degree in that time.[12]

 

Some institutions have made support for student parents a priority and seen marked success. Los Angeles Valley College established the Family Resource Center, which not only provides free childcare for students, but also offers child-friendly study spaces, lactation rooms, academic tutoring and counseling, children’s clothing exchanges, and free organic produce. This comprehensive model has made a huge difference, with evaluations showing that 80 percent of the students who utilized the Family Resource Center completed their degree.[13]

 

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The acts of kindness both by Dr. Musoma and Ellen DeGeneres to support Ms. Robinson’s education should be exposed and celebrated. However, I think that we need to be careful that we are not celebrating the circumstances that required individuals to step up where institutions of higher education should have been providing better services to support mothers’ education.

 

Initiatives such as the Family Resource Center provide an optimistic model for how colleges and universities can invest in students with children. Doing so would make a significant difference for women, so that student mothers like Ashton Robinson can confidently attend class every day without having to rely on the altruism of a few extraordinary individuals. While the cost of providing support for student mothers may seem daunting to some institutions, their support will help student mothers become successful alumni who do incredible things and make the institutions proud.

-TAP

Photo Credits:

1) https://people.com/human-interest/professor-encourages-single-mom-to-graduate/

2) https://www.lacitycollege.edu/

3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vbp7qtUXQFA

 

[1]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vbp7qtUXQFA

[2]Galasso, Fedora, Aurora Harris and Emily Sasser-Bray. “Student Parents and Health Care in Texas: Understanding and Elevating their Needs.” Young Invincibles. https://younginvincibles.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/YI_TX_studentparents.pdf

[3]Kruvelis, Melanie. 2017. “Building Family-Friendly Campuses: Strategies to Promote College Success Among Student Parents.” 12 June. Higher Education Today: A blog by ACE. https://www.higheredtoday.org/2017/06/12/building-family-friendly-campuses-strategies-promote-college-success-among-student-parents/

[4]Galasso, Fedora, Aurora Harris and Emily Sasser-Bray. “Student Parents and Health Care in Texas: Understanding and Elevating their Needs.” Young Invincibles. https://younginvincibles.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/YI_TX_studentparents.pdf

[5]Eckerson, Elanor, Lauren Talbourdet, Lindsey Reichlin, Mary Sykes, Elizabeth Noll, and Barbara Gault. 2016. “Child Care for Parents in College: A State-by-State Assessment.” September. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. https://iwpr.org/publications/child-care-for-parents-in-college-a-state-by-state-assessment/

[6]Gault, Barbara, Lindsey Reichlin, Elizabeth Reynolds, and Meghan Froehner. 2014. “Campus Child Care Declining Even As Growing Numbers of Parents Attend College.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research.” 17 November. https://iwpr.org/publications/campus-child-care-declining-even-as-growing-numbers-of-parents-attend-college/.

[7]Eckerson, Elanor, Lauren Talbourdet, Lindsey Reichlin, Mary Sykes, Elizabeth Noll, and Barbara Gault. 2016. “Child Care for Parents in College: A State-by-State Assessment.” September. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. https://iwpr.org/publications/child-care-for-parents-in-college-a-state-by-state-assessment/

[8]Miller, Kevin, Barbara Gault and Abby Thorman. 2011. “Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents.” Student Parent Success Initiative and Institute for Women’s Policy Research. https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/wpallimport/files/iwpr-export/publications/C378.pdf

[9]Center for the Education on Women. “Helping Students with Children Graduate: Taking Your College Services to the Next Level.” University of Michigan. http://www.cew.umich.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/CEW-Student-Parent-Paper-13-June-FINAL-1.pdf

[10]Galasso, Fedora, Aurora Harris and Emily Sasser-Bray. “Student Parents and Health Care in Texas: Understanding and Elevating their Needs.” Young Invincibles. https://younginvincibles.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/YI_TX_studentparents.pdf

[11]Miller, Kevin, Barbara Gault and Abby Thorman. 2011. “Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents.” Student Parent Success Initiative and Institute for Women’s Policy Research. https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/wpallimport/files/iwpr-export/publications/C378.pdf

[12]Kruvelis, Melanie. 2017. “Building Family-Friendly Campuses: Strategies to Promote College Success Among Student Parents.” 12 June. Higher Education Today: A blog by ACE. https://www.higheredtoday.org/2017/06/12/building-family-friendly-campuses-strategies-promote-college-success-among-student-parents/

[13]Booker, Christopher and Mori Rothman. “Little support in U.S. for college students raising children.” PBS News Hour. 19 May 2019. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/little-support-in-us-for-college-students-raising-children?cid=db.

 

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