Almost a third of all community college students are parents. This fact is not often a topic of conversation at most post-secondary institutions of higher education. Furthermore, when the topic is discussed the conversation often focuses on the need for campus childcare and financial assistance. While these are both crucial factors contributing to student-parent support, the conversation must go well beyond that.
There is a growing body of research that describes student-parents. They are largely single, women of color and low-income. Sixty-five percent work full or part-time jobs while caring for their families and attending college. School takes longer for them to complete; attendance is usually part-time and includes stops-and-starts based on life circumstances. Issues such as employment, childcare, housing and finances all contribute to a lower rate of persistence for this group. Typically most post-secondary interventions focus on academic and financial support rather than including the family issues that directly impact academic success (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2014 & Achieving the Dream, 2012).
Research tells us that college student-parents across the country experience similar challenges; struggling with the demanding roles placed on them by academic and family responsibilities. Not only are students’ family-challenges rarely addressed at community colleges but programs and services targeting student-parent success are rare. Student-parents spend less time on campus than other students and are therefore often less informed about existing resources and how to access them. In addition, they lack a network of support which could help them to navigate the system for these resources.
The Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC) Family Resource Center (FRC) has worked to address some of these challenges by providing targeted support services such as group activities, individualized academic advising and parenting workshops. By addressing student-parent issues holistically, these programs enable student-parents to develop a sense of empowerment and connection to the college that in turn helps them remain on track to meet their educational goals while balancing the demands of family life.
We know that parental education level is a strong predictor of a child’s future academic success, as well as economic and social mobility (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2013). Children of student-parents can face just as many challenges as their parents. Children who attend two-generation (2-Gen) activities with their parents, or other primary caregiver, benefit from increased social interaction, problem solving, conflict resolution, and cognitive learning. According to the Helping Your Children Success in School report from the US Department of Education (2005), these skills are essential to future academic success. Most importantly, the report explains that for children to be successful in school, parents and families need to be actively involved in their child’s learning as early as possible.
Our 2-Gen approach to supporting student-parents and their families helps parents further their own education and facilitates a deep understanding of the importance of their lifelong role as their children’s first and best teacher. This has far-reaching, positive implications for the academic success of each child.
The following sections will describe the mission and history of the LAVC Family Resource Center and offer strategic planning ideas for getting started with 2-Gen programs and services on your campus. The remainder of the ToolKit is divided into four modules that focus on outreach activities, 2-Gen targeted services for student parents, and individualizing services to support academic success and economic mobility.
Inherent in this ToolKit is the understanding that no two colleges are alike and no two student-parents have the same needs. Our work with colleges has taught us that each academic institution has a unique student population that deserves unique services. As you explore this ToolKit and read what worked for us, remember that we offer our experience to inspire and equip you to develop a program that works for your students. Good luck!