(Image: The Aspen Institute, Institute for Women’s Policy Research)
Nearly a quarter of undergraduate university and college students are parents, but as they struggle to balance academic and family responsibilities, they are graduating at dramatically lower rates than students without children.
U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross (NC-02) and U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath (GA-07) are looking to change that with a bill filed Thursday, part of work Ross has been pursuing throughout her lawmaking career.
“I’ve been working on this issue for decades,” Ross, who previously served in the North Carolina General Assembly, told Newsline this week.
“Initially I worked on it for pregnant and parenting high school students who were being put out of school,” Ross said. “Here we have kids who are going to have babies and people are trying to make it so they can’t finish high school. Then I worked on trying to get more childcare facilities at community college. And then here in Congress we’ve learned that more than 20 percent of people getting a college degree are pregnant or parenting. And they have lower graduation rates. So this is a problem basically from adolescence on.”
About 22 percent of all undergraduates are parents, according to an analysis of data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. That number is higher at private, for-profit institutions — about 45 percent.
But studies show only about 2 percent of young teen mothers are able to get their undergraduate degree by age 30.
Ross’s bill, the “Understanding Student Parent Outcomes Act of 2023,” (see below) would require the US Department of Education to collect data on barriers to graduating college and find best practices for improving graduation rates for university and college students who are also parents or caregivers.
“This should be a bipartisan issue,” Ross said. “Women who have children in their teens or twenties — it’s not political, it’s not urban or rural. It’s just a fact of life.”
The problem is a particularly tough one for lower-income parents, Ross said, who struggle to pay for basic expenses in addition to the cost of higher education and often can’t afford child care.
“We want higher education and community college to be something that helps raise people’s standards of living,” Ross said. “It’s kind of a double whammy if you’re already lower income and you’re trying to get that education and you have this additional expense.”
The largest percentage of students with children attend community colleges, according to the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
As Newsline reported last month, two North Carolina institutions were recently among 34 colleges and universities that received federal grants to support or establish campus-based child care programs for low-income students from the Department of Education.
UNC-Greensboro received $224,102 under the grant program and Carteret Community College in Morehead City received $105,000.
“I am a big believer in campus child care programs because I’ve seen how they break down barriers to upskilling and attaining postsecondary education for parents with young children —bringing the American Dream within reach for families across America,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement on the grants.
Last month, Wake Forest University also announced it will start a child care and early education center in its University Corporate Center, which the university hopes to open for the next fall semester.
“Every student deserves equal access to education and the opportunities that come with it, but far too often the challenges of pregnancy or parenting can derail a student’s educational path,” Ross said. “The Understanding Student Parent Outcomes Act will help identify those barriers and work to close gaps in graduation rates for student parents so they can unlock a better and brighter future for themselves and their families. I’m grateful for the partnership of Congresswoman McBath on this critical issue and promise to keep working to support the education of all students.”the Understanding Student Parent Outcomes Act of 2023
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