Student-parents struggle with ‘time poverty’ as financial aid lags

A new study in The Journal of Higher Education finds that college students with preschool-age children face steep obstacles to graduation. According to the researchers, “time poverty,” the low quantity and quality of available time for school work, had a “significant direct effect on college persistence and credit accumulation,” even though student-parents had average GPAs that were higher than those of their non-parent peers.

The study reflects survey and transcript data from 15,385 students at two- and four-year colleges in the City University of New York system, reports Diverse Issues in Higher Education, and controlled for the presence of a live-in partner, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Limited time for course work and insufficient access to childcare

In evaluating key hurdles to degree attainment, the researchers calculated that student-parents had around 50 percent less available time for course work than their childless peers. Other barriers included the stigma against bringing children to class or to the library, strict course-attendance policies, and a dearth of childcare options on campus.

The study found that two-thirds of surveyed student-parents felt their childcare arrangements did not provide adequate time for course work. The researchers point out that child care options on U.S. college campuses have been decreasing, with less than half of four-year public colleges offering it in 2015, down from 55 percent in 2003-05. Just 44 percent of community colleges reported having a campus childcare center in 2015, down from 53 percent in 2003-04.

Inadequate financial aid consideration of childcare costs

Claire Wladis, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, points to insufficient financial aid as a key driver of student-parents’ time poverty. Currently, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid “does not ask about the number of dependents a student has, nor does it take into account a student-parent’s overall child care costs, thus leaving colleges sometimes unaware of a student’s remaining financial need,” reports Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “[B]ecause financial aid only covers, in theory, the cost of the students themselves and not their families,” students are forced to compensate by working additional hours, Wladis said.

Pathways to improve student-parent outcomes

To increase student-parent success, the study calls for making “convenient and affordable childcare” more widely available, increasing federal and state funding for childcare programs, and revising financial aid formulas to more accurately estimate childcare costs.

Meanwhile, a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation using Census data also argues for subsidized childcare on campuses and as part of vocational training programs to combat “disproportionately high poverty rates,” for young parents, reports Youth Today.

“The more we can put out research that shows that direct link between access to childcare and student graduation rates, the better,” Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, study director for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told Inside Higher Ed.

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