How can colleges support students with children?

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • Although parents tend to experience more stress than their peers, they are generally less likely to know about and less able to afford mental health services.
  • That’s according to a new report from the Jed Foundation and Aspen Institute, which examined the stressors student-parents are likely to experience that put them at a greater risk for developing mental health issues than their peers without children.
  • The pandemic has amplified student-parents stressors, as many had to supervise their children’s education at home and balance unpredictable schedules.

Dive Insight:

A lack of data on student-parents, specifically, inspired the study, said Sara Gorman, director of research and knowledge dissemination at the Jed Foundation, during a webinar Wednesday.

colleges support students

Just over one in five undergraduates are parents, the researchers found. These students are more likely to be women, and particularly women of color, according to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The researchers pulled data from several sources for the latest study, including the Healthy Minds Network’s 2020 study data, the National College Health Assessment, and the Hope Center’s 2020 RealCollege Survey. They also polled 1,022 students at U.S. colleges this past winter and interviewed 25 student-parents last fall.

While all student-parents were more likely to consider dropping out of school in the previous 30 days than nonparents, the researchers’ survey found that those 18 to 29 and those receiving financial aid said so at higher rates. Younger student-parents were also more likely than older students with children to report feeling nervous, hopeless, and worthless.

Older student-parents, meanwhile, “demonstrated a degree of resilience that was not always evident even in their non-parenting counterparts,” the researchers wrote.

As such, they added, colleges should develop initiatives targeting younger student-parents. One idea the report offers is having older student-parents mentor younger ones.

Another way colleges can improve the student-parent experience is by training campus mental health professionals to address the stressors unique to this group. Education in trauma-informed care is also advised, the researchers say. Student-parents were more likely than their peers without children to have a history of trauma, which could include being rejected by their families, experiencing sexual assault or domestic violence, and not having their basic needs met, the analysis found.

Creating spaces and activities for students’ children at schoolwide events, offering on-campus childcare, and including student-parents in marketing materials are other ways to help them feel like part of the campus.

Additionally, collecting more data on members of this group — including how they’re using campus services, their needs, and whether they feel like a part of the campus community — can help schools better accommodate them, the researchers added.

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