Providing Equitable Access Through Child Care

Mainstream images of college campuses don’t often include toddlers on a playground. Today, however, one in five college students is also a parent. Unfortunately, more than half of them leave school without obtaining a degree.

Traditional student demographics typically don’t include student parents, which leaves them out of campus conversations around equitable access.

In a collaborative report, “Improving Mental Health of Student Parents: A Framework for Higher Education,” from The Jed Foundation — a nonprofit that promotes emotional well-being and suicide prevention among teens and young adults in partnership with Ascend at the Aspen Institute, a division of the international nonprofit that is dedicated to systemic policy change for families — research shows the results of such exclusion, including that “parenting students were interested in participating in more on-campus events and activities, but they face a key barrier: securing childcare.”

Equitable access for student parents, at least in part, means offering affordable child care resources.

Some institutions acknowledge this disconnect and are finding ways to provide more support. The University of Nebraska at Kearney, home to the Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center, offers discounted child care services to those enrolled at the university. The UKids – Presidents Circle at the University of Utah provides a tiered fee scale and preferred acceptance for student families. Wake Forest University in North Carolina is slated to open an on-campus child care center by fall 2024 that will prioritize placement for children of students, faculty, and staff.

These are valuable, but uncommon, examples of how a campus can create infrastructure to meet the needs of parenting students. Most institutions do not have on-campus child care options. Of those that do, child care is typically reserved for faculty and staff, not students.

The national nonprofit Generation Hope, whose goal is “to ensure all student parents have the opportunity to succeed,” is broadly encouraging higher education to widen its support systems for these students. Their FamilyU Cohort is a group of institutions with a demonstrated interest in serving this population and a commitment to racially equitable practices.

Member schools gain expert insight and tools to further their campus progress, such as virtual coaching sessions, in-person conferences, and access to a nationwide network of student parents and higher education professionals. In addition, members bear the FamilyU seal as a symbol of the institution’s dedication to student parent success.


The most recent FamilyU Cohort, announced in June 2023, includes Jackson State University in Mississippi, College Unbound in Rhode Island, Dallas College in Texas, Hudson County Community College in New Jersey, and Howard Community College in Maryland. Historically Black colleges and universities are encouraged to apply for membership, and their application fees are waived.

Other options are available for universities to alleviate some of the pressures of student parents and to support their educational goals. For example, the U.S. Department of Education’s Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools program, provides grants for institutions to establish or support campus-based child care for low-income students. The competitive program accepts applications every four years; the most recent round closed in 2023.

In 2022, a New York state grant of more than $4 million funded the expansion of campus child care services at State University of New York and City University of New York schools.

Developing on-campus child care centers may be a long-term goal, but there are additional ways institutions can help student parents thrive in the interim. Flexible scheduling, accessible counseling, and financial aid services are all key, viable options. Some simple and practical ways to cultivate a family-friendly atmosphere include making high chairs available in the dining hall, providing lactation rooms for nursing parents, or designating specific family study areas.

Targeted marketing efforts should include sharing success stories of current student parents or highlighting available resources. More than half of student parents also identify as a person of color; accommodating them, therefore, is a critical component to racially equitable systems of learning.

Because many institutions do not collect data on the parental status of students, doing so would be an initial step to discovering the needed areas of support.

The unique challenges faced by student parents can be viewed as opportunities, rather than obstacles, for any college or university. Increasing visibility of student parents on campus through external media circulation, internal communications, mentorship programs, and campus organizations would not only benefit current students by enhancing their sense of belonging but would also benefit the institution in recruiting potential new student parents.