November 10, 2017

Here’s how colleges can help students juggling parenthood and their studies

Three inspiring stories of innovation and ingenuity across America

More than a quarter of undergraduate students in the U.S. are parents, and most of them are women. Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Every Friday, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions individuals and organizations are creating in their communities. Want to share a story from your hometown? Email us at

Supporting student-parents: More than a quarter of American undergraduate students are parents. This means that across the country, roughly 4.8 million students are struggling to handle both the responsibilities of a higher education, as well as the responsibilities of raising a dependent child. In fact, only 33 percent of students with dependent children complete a degree within six years. Many colleges and universities across the country are enacting measures to help student-parents complete their education—and NationSwell has compiled five key ways in which colleges have done this. One of the key measures undertaken by schools is improving access: to campus, for the parents, and to local schools, for their kids. The College of Saint Mary, for example, has campus housing dedicated to single mothers, with amenities that cater to their needs, such as a jungle gym play area for kids. Housing was a much-needed investment: “Between 2008 and 2012, only one in five of the mothers who were first-time students and commuted came back for their sophomore years,” reports the Omaha World-Herald. By keeping mothers on campus, administrators hope to bump that number closer to the 79 percent retention rate for other undergraduate students. Other measures include developing a childcare infrastructure to support young parents, such as childcare facilities and lactation rooms. Some schools, such as Wilson College and Indiana University Southeast provide dedicated programming for kids, including classes and camps.

Encouraging early literacy: In 2013, a Stanford University study found that “significant disparities in vocabulary and language processing efficiency were already evident at 18 months between infants from higher- and lower-SES families.” One D.C. Public Library program, Books From Birth, is aiming to close the literacy gap between young children raised in different socioeconomic backgrounds. The program mails one book per month to enrolled children. Every child in the district is eligible, from birth to their fifth birthday. “I can’t imagine being 5 years old and having my own little library from the time that I was born up until then,” Martinette Jennifer, the mother of a 16-month-old, Dakota, told NPR. “It’s definitely encouraging Dakota to get excited about books and hopefully that continues as she gets older.” The program is a partnership with Imagination Library, a national nonprofit that selects and mails out the books to participants. The program, which launched in February 2016 in D.C. now covers roughly 27,000—or 57 percent—of children eligible, with a specific focus on children in particular underserved parts of the district.

Congressional hackathon: On Nov. 30, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer are hosting a hackathon. The event is the third annual hackathon hosted by McCarthy and Hoyer, and is open to the public. “Over the past few decades, new technologies have generated exponential changes in how organizations function across most sectors of our economy, yet government has failed to keep pace with those changes,” McCarthy said in a statement. “Software developers, designers and program engineers have a unique opportunity to restore the public’s trust in their nation’s legislative processes.” After initial remarks from the hosts, participants will break off into groups to think through solutions to problems in areas including “legislative workflow and data, constituent casework and services, constituent communication and engagement, and modernizing congressional hearings.”

Mikhail Klimentov

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor for The Renewal Project.