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Campus Child Care Declining Despite Growing Numbers of College Students Raising Children

WASHINGTON, DC —While the number of college students with dependent children has been growing, and more than one in four college students (4.8 million undergraduate students) in the U.S. are raising children, campus-based child care has been declining, according to new analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Campus child care has decreased most dramatically at community colleges — where nearly half (45 percent) of all students with children are enrolled. Less than half of all two-year institutions offer campus child care services. The proportion of community colleges with child care on campus declined from a high of 53 percent in 2003-2004, to 46 percent in 2013. IWPR’s analysis is based on 2013 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Child care, which is essential for allowing a parent to attend school or study, can be prohibitively expensive, and eligibility requirements can make it difficult for college students to access the limited number of federally-funded child-care subsidies. A 2014 IWPR survey of female community college students in Mississippi found that 24 percent of respondents had taken time off from school because of insufficient child care.

IWPR research also finds that being a student parent is associated with high levels of unmet financial need, low levels of college completion and high levels of debt upon graduation. Sixty-one percent of student parents have no money to contribute to college expenses, and among single students with children, 88 percent are low income. Student mothers’ average undergraduate debt one year after graduation is approximately $3,800 more than that of female students with no children, and nearly $5,000 more than that of male students with no children.

“College students who are raising children make up a substantial share of the student population, and face tremendous challenges balancing school, parenthood, and work. Postsecondary support systems have a long way to go in making campuses family friendly for their students,” says IWPR Vice President and Executive Director Barbara Gault, Ph.D.Greater access to child care would help student parents complete college and achieve lasting economic security.”

Women are disproportionately likely to be balancing college and parenthood, many without the support of a spouse or partner. Women are 71 percent of student parents, and single mothers make up 43 percent of the student parent population. In contrast, only 11 percent of student parents are single fathers. Women college students of color are more likely than other college students to have dependent children: nearly half of all African American women in college are mothers.

The Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue and strengthen communities and societies.

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