May 26, 2020

A recent report released by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, an action research center focused on advancing changes to meet real college students’ needs, focuses on the experiences and basic needs of students parenting while in college. The purpose of this report is to draw attention to the reality for most parenting students and promote policy changes and practices that can offer the best support.

This report brings to light the basic needs insecurities prevalent among parenting college students. In 2019, 53 percent of parenting students reported experiencing food insecurity, 68 percent experienced housing insecurity, and 17 percent experienced homelessness. Rates of basic needs insecurities are higher among parenting students when compared to non-parenting students, as they are met with increased financial burdens, including childcare, and increased demands on their time.

The Hope Center report explores the demographics of parenting students across the country through a survey with over 23,000 responses from parenting students across the nation. The survey reveals that parenting students come from two-year and four-year institutions and that a majority identify as women of color.

The rates of food and housing insecurity and homelessness among parenting students are further broken down by factors like race, marital status, and institution type. Some of the key findings of the survey revealed that

  • rates of basic needs insecurities and homelessness were 20–30 percent higher among single parenting students when compared to married parenting students;
  • parenting students at two-year institutions experienced higher rates of basic needs insecurities than parenting students at four-year institutions;
  • across different racial groups, housing and food insecurity rates were particularly high among parenting students of color and female-identifying students; and
  • 30 percent of parenting students reported experiencing depression while 27 percent reported experiencing anxiety.

The Hope Center recommends the following programs and policy changes to help support parenting students:

  • Increase access to public benefits programs for parenting students

One of the most important factors that can improve the health and well-being of parenting students is access to public benefits programs. According to this report, parenting students access benefits, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance, and Medicaid at lower rates than they need. Only 29 percent of food-insecure parenting students have access to benefits under SNAP, while only 15 percent of housing-insecure and homeless students access housing assistance. Parenting students with children ages 0–5 still experience low usage rates of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) compared to their needs. FRAC’s research shows that participation in SNAP and WIC leads to increased health outcomes for parents and children.

  • Improving childcare access programs across the nation

Childcare costs were identified as one of the most impactful factors on basic needs insecurities for parenting students. Sixty-two percent of parenting students responded that they could not afford to pay for childcare. Among those included in that percentage, the rates of food and housing insecurity increased significantly. Students also reported having missed classes and work due to inadequate access to childcare. Access to affordable and quality childcare is an important step in supporting parenting students.

  • Building on-campus support for students with children

More can be done to support parenting students at colleges and universities. Institutions can work to include childcare access programs on campus or early childhood education. They can work with local human service agencies to make enrollment processes for public benefits easier for students. They can also provide resources to local nonprofits that offer wraparound services to parenting students.

  • Implementing two-generation approaches to family well-being

The two-generation approach improves the well-being of families by focusing on parents and children. Two-generation programs succeed by providing parent-focused approaches, like food and nutrition services, postsecondary pathways, and childcare, as well as child-focused approaches, like early childhood learning and child nutrition programs. FRAC has done extensive research that shows that children’s participation in school breakfast and lunch, summer, and afterschool meal programs ensures that children receive nutritious meals outside of the home while reducing a household’s food budget. These two-generation models benefit parenting students and their children, and should become more commonplace across organizations, nonprofits, and colleges and universities.

College hunger is an increasingly pressing issue for our nation. FRAC’s research has found that rates of food insecurity among U.S. college students are higher than the national average. This report conducted by the Hope Center reveals that parenting students are among those most likely to experience high rates of food and housing insecurity. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased rates of basic needs insecurities across the country, this report emphasizes the importance for a targeted approach in addressing the needs of different populations. Parenting students are at increasingly high risks for experiencing basic needs insecurities. Efforts to dismantle the root causes of poverty and mitigate the negative impacts of food and housing insecurities are much-needed for parenting students and their families to thrive at home, in the classroom, and throughout life.