Attending College as a Student-Parent

Attending College as a Student-Parent

Going to college as a parent brings a unique set of challenges, but choosing a
higher education institution
with resources for student-parents can help.

According to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, 22% of college students have children. Of those student-parents, mothers outnumber fathers more than two to one. And although student-parents on average earn higher GPAs than non-parent students, many face challenges completing their degrees. In fact, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that only 37% of student-parents complete their degree within six years, compared to 59% of students without children.

Keeping up with coursework may seem impossible as a new parent, especially as a single parent. However, various resources, programs, grants, and scholarships can support students with children as they obtain a college degree. The scope of such programs vary from institution to institution, which means student-parents must carefully research any prospective school before enrolling.

To help student-parents
on their quest for a college degree, this guide provides insight into what student-parents should look for when searching for a supportive college program, as well as the kinds of assistance they can expect to receive.

What Makes a College Student-Parent Friendly?

A student-parent friendly college features a robust collection of programs and services aimed at helping students with minors. Such programs include family friendly student housing and support groups for single mothers or fathers. Services that support student-parents include campus-sponsored daycares and even financial assistance. Additionally, colleges that offer online or hybrid programs for obtaining a degree feature the flexibility that many student-parents need to succeed academically. Schools that provide asynchronous learning options, meaning students can complete courses online around their own schedule, often appeal to student-parents. Still, whether attending on campus or via remote learning options, college remains a time-consuming endeavor. The additional resources below often make it easier for parents of minors to succeed in their college careers.

  • Women and Children Support Programs

    Look for universities that offer specific academic, residential, or social programs for single (or married) mothers and their children. For example, Seattle Central College offers multiple women’s programs that include resource referrals for housing, medical, and dental assistance; book and tuition support; meal vouchers; an annual health fair; domestic violence referrals; and on-campus partner organizational resources through the YWCA and the King County Public Health Department.

  • Family Friendly Housing

    College life often conjures up images of students living together in cramped dorms. Fortunately for student-parents, many colleges now offer family friendly housing options for students with children, a spouse, or both. For example, UC Santa Cruz provides one- and two-bedroom apartment-style student housing for families at below-market rents, with childcare centers located on the premises. These housing options can provide student-parents with the privacy and space they need to navigate school while raising children.

  • Child Development Programs and Facilities

    Enrolling in a college with on-campus childcare facilities and programs helps student-parents immensely as they pursue their degree. Many universities and colleges provide discounted or free childcare services to students. For example, Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois, provides a low-cost childcare center for students and faculty. The Lone Star College System in Texas also offers various on-campus, campus-community partnerships to provide childcare options to students at its different campus locations.

  • Parent/Family Support Services

    Student-parents should also look out for additional support services for parents and families that schools may offer. For example, the University of Washington funds several family and parent programs in areas such as leadership, skill-building, and career counseling. And the University of California, Berkeley provides a Student Parent Center, which offers a one-stop campus resource for parents, allowing parents to network, get advice, participate in study groups, and get general support from other student-parents.

Preparing to Go Back to School

Attending classes while raising children can test students in many ways. By planning ahead, student-parents can ensure they choose a school that offers childcare and other support services to help them succeed. To help prepare them for a return to campus life, student-parents should take the following steps.

  • Choose a School or Program that Fits Your Needs

    As both a parent and a student, student-parents must find the right balance of time to dedicate to both of their roles. They must also consider the costs of parenthood alongside the expense of a college education. In fact, because of financial concerns, research shows that 42% of student-parents tend to enroll in lower-cost community colleges.

    When choosing a school, student-parents should also consider career goals and major interests, along with their budget. Students should also consider whether or not they need to relocate or if they need to attend a school close to their current home. With these factors narrowing down the list of schools, student-parents should closely examine each college’s parental accommodation policies and services before making their final selection.

    Students may also want to consider carefully whether they must attend a program with in-person classes or if they can opt for a degree program that resides completely online instead. Online education affords parents flexibility and convenience. Parents can complete coursework while their children sleep or after work. Arranging childcare and attending classes can prove easier when the classroom moves online.

  • Get an Advisor

    Connecting with an advisor early on serves student-parents well as they advance towards graduation. Student-parents sometimes take twice as long to graduate as non-parent students. An academic advisor who understands student-parents’ needs helps degree candidates stay on track and meet all requirements. Advisors know the university’s ins and outs and can get students connected not only to on-campus programs but off-campus programs where the university partners with local community service providers. Additionally, advisors can walk returning or first-time students through the application process.

  • Schedule a Campus Visit

    Student-parents should visit the campus before enrolling in a school. This gives them the chance to take a look at childcare centers and medical clinics provided on campus. Some colleges and universities even provide lactation/quiet rooms for nursing mothers. A campus tour also allows students to preview adult housing options for students with families, as well as their locations on campus.

  • Apply for Financial Assistance

    All students should consider applying for financial assistance early on in the enrollment process. Student-parents often rely on financial assistance to afford childcare and other necessities. Using financial aid often enables student-parents to attend school without working a full-time job at the same time.As a first step, students should fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students should also check with each school’s student aid office to find out about additional grants and programs offered. The school uses the information in the FAFSA form to determine the applicant’s financial need and what combination of loans and grants they may receive to pay for school-related costs.

Loans, Grants, Scholarships, and Aid for the Student-Parent

When it comes to funding a college education, student-parents can explore a few different options. Federal student aid, private loans, grants, and work-study programs provide students with the funding needed to pay tuition, fees, and living expenses.

  • Federal Student Aid

    Students seeking funds for college usually start with federal student aid, and that applies to students with children as well. Federal loans offer favorable terms that make obtaining a college education possible for all. There are two main types of federal loans: direct subsidized loans and direct unsubsidized loans. Direct subsidized loans provide the best loan terms, but only those with financial need can receive them.

    Students pay more interest with direct unsubsidized loans but do not need to demonstrate a financial need. Only undergraduate students receive subsidized loans, while unsubsidized loans apply to both graduate and undergraduate costs. With all federal loans, the federal government lends the funds. A variety of repayment plans provide flexibility for student-parents following graduation.

  • Loans

    Private student loans can provide funds for college when federal aid falls short. The total federal loan limit for independent students maxes out at $9,500. Student-parents who need more funds may consider private loans to make up the difference. They may also tap private funds to pay for living expenses, books, and other materials. Private loans also work as an option for student-parents that cannot qualify for federal loans for some reason, such as past convictions for certain criminal offenses. Private loans cause more problems than federal loans, so student-parents should exercise caution when choosing this option.

  • Grants

    Grants come from various sources, including federal and state governments, colleges and universities, and other organizations. Students typically receive grants as part of their educational institution’s financial aid package after filling out the FAFSA form. Federal Pell Grants are the most common type of federal grant, and students may use these funds for childcare expenses.

    Student-parents should also look for additional grants and scholarships for which they may qualify. Some colleges even offer grants specifically for parents of minor children. For example, the University of California, Berkley offers a Parent Grant for undergraduate student-parents with dependent children under 18. Additionally, the California Student Aid Commission also extends a Students with Dependents grant to those who qualify.

    Scholarships for student-parents can also provide much-needed financial support for education. Scholarships usually cater to students in certain colleges, fields of study, or a specific geographic area. For example, theCapture the Dream Single Parent Scholarshipoffers $1,000 to single parents residing in California’s Bay Area. Another example comes from Texas State University, where the Athena Scholarship for Women awards $3,000 to single mothers with at least one minor child who can demonstrate financial need. Finding the right grant or scholarship may take some digging, but, when available, such resources can help defray costs.

  • Work Study

    Federally funded work-study programs provide low-income student-parents another pathway to earn money for school. Students who accept work study as part of their financial aid package earn money working an on-campus job for up to 20 hours a week. Students may also complete work-study options off campus when working with a nonprofit or public agency related to their major. In some cases, students may apply for a work-study program as a teaching assistant or other position in their child’s campus daycare program.

The Importance of On-Campus Childcare

The expense of childcare often deters individuals from returning to college. That makes campus childcare an important factor for student-parents looking for a program that suits them. Such facilities simplify a student’s daily routine, save on commuting costs, and allow students to remain close to their children.

Research shows on-campus care centers improve retention rates and directly decrease a student’s likelihood of dropping out of school. Childcare in most states costs more than college tuition, which means coupling the cost of childcare with the total cost of attendance at either a two- or four-year college may prevent prospective students from obtaining a college degree.

Unfortunately, the availability of campus childcare does not meet the demand — especially at the community college level. In fact, a recent study (2010) from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found on-campus supply only meets 5% of the total childcare needs of student-parents enrolled in colleges nationwide. Less than half of the country’s 1,000 community colleges provide on-campus care services for parents, and of those childcare programs that do exist, many suffer from long waitlists.

Finding Childcare Support

Student-parents that plan to rely on childcare support while attending classes need to make sure their preferred school offers such a program, or they should find an alternative. A few programs student-parents can consider when returning to college include:

  • College Campus Care Programs

    Universities often fund and operate their own campus childcare programs or contract such services out to third-party childcare providers. Postsecondary care centers play an important role in student success by helping student-parents get the childcare they need to succeed in school. While limited in number, where available, campus childcare programs contribute to the well-being of student-parents and their children.

    For example, the Baby Gator Child Development and Research Center offered by the University of Florida provides infant care and a play-based, child-oriented curriculum for toddlers through preschoolers. Daily activities feature a music program and a health and wellness program. In addition, a voluntary Pre-K program provides additional childcare support to student-parents.

    Other example programs include The University of New Mexico’s Children’s Campus, which provides subsidized childcare to students. Stanford University also provides discounted childcare for students through its onsite childhood education programs.

    When researching campus childcare centers, student-parents should inquire about costs, discounts, eligibility, the application process, activities, and if a waiting list exists. If possible, parents should visit the center and meet with the teacher to ask questions about the classroom atmosphere and the teacher’s philosophy on how children learn.

  • Local Babysitter Programs

    Local babysitter programs provide another option for student-parents. Many non-parent college students find extra work as babysitters, providing an ample supply of reliable sitting services to most student-parents. Some colleges and universities, such as the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, allow student-parents to post free job listings for babysitting services on its university job board. At St. Catherine’s University, in St. Paul, Minnesota, parents can find a directory of student babysitters at its on-campus, child-friendly study room.

  • Childcare Access Means Parents in Schools

    The U.S. Department of Education program Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) provides funds to institutions of higher learning in order to support or establish childcare services for low-income students in postsecondary education. Funds may directly support on-campus childcare centers or contracted childcare services for Pell-grant eligible students.

    For example, the CCAMPIS program at UC San Diego offers paid childcare at its UC San Diego Early Childhood Education Center to eligible students who qualify for the full subsidy. A sliding scale applies to students qualifying for partial subsidies.

  • Childcare Resource and Referral Services

    While a college may not provide childcare services itself, many may offer childcare resources and referral services to connect student-parents with vetted support programs available in the broader community. This may include directing student-parents to subsidized childcare assistance offered at the city or county level.

    For example, the Child Care Resource and Referral office at Eastern Illinois University exists to provide student-parents with referrals to local childcare providers and help with obtaining technical or financial assistance.

Resources for the Single-Parent

Single parents making the jump to head back to school often need extra support. A great number of resources serve single parents both on and offline. Many of these sites and organizations offer tips, tricks, and aid for the single mom or dad heading back to school. Some programs focus exclusively on single mothers.

  • Single Parent Alliance & Resource Center (SPARC)

    This nonprofit aims to improve the lives of single parents with online classes, forums, and toolkits. Student-parents may benefit from meeting and talking with other single parents that understand the difficult challenges they face.

  • Single Mothers by Choice

    This membership organization empowers women who choose the path of single motherhood by providing support and information. Members receive access to discussion forum boards and introductions with other single mothers in their area. In addition, members can schedule an online consultation with a psychotherapist specializing in issues single mothers face.

  • Single Mother Guide

    This vital resource provides information on college grants, Medicaid applications, and tax breaks for single moms. The college grants section features a large directory of program descriptions and their deadlines. The site also provides a state-by-state guide of government-sponsored programs that help single mothers.

  • Rental Assistance for Single Mothers

    This well-kept resource details organizations that can help with paying bills, as well as with obtaining and keeping housing. Such programs make it possible for some student-parents to afford college while caring for and supporting their young children.

  • Helping Hands for Single Moms

    This nonprofit focuses on helping single moms head back to school by providing help with educational and financial expenses. Available to student-mothers attending college in Dallas or Phoenix, the program offers a monthly scholarship of $270 along with financial aid for auto repairs and textbooks. The group also provides single moms with hair cuts, tutoring, and limited healthcare. They also host monthly meetings for members to meet with other single moms.

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