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Joining Forces to Increase Awareness of the Needs of Student Parents

Why Institutional Efforts Must Be Rooted in the Authentic Needs of Learners

January 8, 2024

At a Glance

Community college representatives across the four Student Success Centers who participated in a community of practice share their learnings around the 2-Generation Framework—a powerful tool designed to shape policies and practices that enhance support for student parents on college campuses.

Rachel Pleasants McDonnell Director, JFF
Quinton G. Stroud Senior Program Manager
Practices & Centers

Parents make up a sizable portion of the collegegoing population in the United States: According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, approximately one-quarter of community college students are parents. Postsecondary education can pave the way to economic advancement for families. Yet, due to numerous systemic barriers, students with parenting responsibilities complete college at much lower rates than students who are not raising children, even when earning comparable course grades.

In 2023, Jobs for the Future (JFF) launched a community of practice with the Student Success Center Network and community college representatives from four states (Arkansas, Ohio, New York, and Wisconsin). Its goal was to raise awareness of the challenges faced by student parents and share innovative strategies for making colleges more welcoming and supportive. The community of practice focused on opportunities to adopt the two-generation (2Gen) framework, which centers family well-being and enhances student parent success. Throughout this eight-month period, participants from four Student Success Centers (SSCs) and 19 institutional partners had the opportunity to:

  • Delve into the tenets of the 2Gen framework.  
  • Identify internal and external stakeholders who provide services that support the success of student parents within their state/local contexts. 
  • Develop statewide information campaigns that take advantage of each center’s reach to increase awareness of student parents and promising practices.  
  • Receive technical assistance to develop institutional action plans with next steps for adopting a 2Gen approach to supporting student parents. 

Following their participation in the community of practice, SSC leaders were asked about their experience and any best practices they planned to disseminate to support student parents in their states’ institutions. Their responses, presented below, fell within three overarching categories: lessons learned, approaches to expanding awareness of 2Gen and familycentered strategies, and resources needed to increase support for student parents. What they made clear is the value of the 2Gen framework in their work to support overall student success. 

Lessons Learned

Data is the first step: A common theme across the community of practice was the need for institutions to collect more substantial data on student parents as a priority population of learners. Asking students about their parenting or caregiving status is not currently standard practice at most colleges. Gaining access to usable data was seen as a key need, both for college and system-level leaders, because it is critical to making the case for increased partnership and funding opportunities.  

Listen to student parents: Knowing who student parents are is the first step toward getting input from current student parents. When the leaders were asked about their biggest takeaway from the community of practice experience, the most common theme was the need to better engage student parents in developing solutions to meet their authentic needs. Listening to the voices of families—their experiences, challenges, and suggestions—is a core principle of the 2Gen approach but still a new idea for many postsecondary leaders.  

Develop external partnerships: Additionally, SSC leaders noted the need to interact with systems beyond community colleges to better meet the needs of students. These discussions included developing an intentional focus on supporting students to meet basic needs, as well as deepening engagement with workforce partners as a means of helping students build connections to access quality jobs upon completion of their programs of study.  

Examine institutional policy: SSC leaders also noted the ways that their participation in the community of practice helped to elevate conversations about how campus policy can have an outsize impact on student parents’ ability to enroll, engage fully in their education, and persist through completion. In particular, they noted the potential impact of attendance policies and “no children on campus” policies, which can create obstacles for student parents as they attempt to meet both the demands of their academic workload and their caregiving responsibilities.

Approaches to Expanding Awareness of 2Gen and Family-Centered Strategies

SSCs play a valuable role in shaping the conversation about student success at the institutional level. Through presentations, meetings, professional development, and resource sharing, they are able to elevate priority topics with leaders and stakeholders across their states and institutions. Center leaders highlighted their insights as they worked with institutions in their states during the community of practice, as well as a variety of ways they intend to spread awareness of the 2Gen framework. Some of the strategies they noted include: 

  • Hosting events specifically focused on student parents. The Wisconsin SSC plans to bring together colleges, the Department of Children and Families, and community-based organizations to share collaborative approaches to supporting student parents. 
  • Embedding a student parent focus into ongoing student success work. Ohio plans to elevate student parents as a population in need of targeted support through its annual Holistic Student Supports Institute.  
  • Getting student parents on the radar of college leadership. In Arkansas, the SSC’s executive director is committed to bringing the 2Gen framework directly to community college presidents and chancellors. 
  • Disseminating resources. New York’s SSC is taking full advantage of its reputation as a resource hub to share useful tools and reports focused on 2Gen supports and student parents.

Resources Needed to Increase Support for Student Parents

As SSC leaders discussed their desire to expand support for student parents across their states, they pointed to the need for a variety of resources that could support their efforts, including:  

  • Toolkits outlining best practice related to implementing the 2Gen framework. 
  • Strategies for accessing diverse and flexible funding pools beyond federal funds, which tend to come with stringent stipulations regarding the types of supports colleges can provide directly to student parents.  
  • Ongoing learning opportunities from national, state, and institutional experts on the 2Gen approach. These could be leveraged to bring together relevant partner groups as a way of expanding adoption and support in the field and to further identify best practices.  
  • Targeted professional education experiences focused on identifying and meeting students’ basic needs and navigating on-campus policies and cultural climates, to better support student parents.  

Fortunately, there are already many resources available to help colleges get started with family-friendly policies and practices. Beyond those already highlighted, key tools and reports include: 

Community colleges across the country play an important role in the national education ecosystem as it relates to connecting student parents with access to credentialing opportunities. With the community college sector serving 42% of all student parents, it is incumbent on this segment of postsecondary providers to lead the charge in developing innovative and targeted solutions to support their successful matriculation. 2Gen strategies are one key way to advance this work, and Student Success Centers—with their statewide reach and reputations—can play a significant role in elevating the visibility of student parents and kickstarting the work of making campuses more welcoming and supportive of families.