Survey Finds 82% of Student-Parents Are Living Below the Poverty Line

Fifteen percent of surveyed respondents, most who are people of color, reported that they had no income at all while parenting and pursuing their degree.
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  • A majority of student-parents surveyed by Generation Hope attend school full time and work more than 20 hours a week.
  • Three-quarters of these student-parents say they personally care for their child 30 hours a week or more while pursuing their degree.
  • Only 1 in 4 student-parents report having "very stable" access to childcare.

Pursuing a degree while parenting comes with a unique set of challenges. And a new report from Generation Hope reveals that a majority are doing so on a limited income.

The organization surveyed 65 of their current student-parent scholars attending 19 colleges and universities throughout the District of Columbia region and found that 82% had an annual household income below $30,000, which the report cited as the national poverty line. The majority of these respondents were people of color (95%).

Just over half of the respondents (56%) said they were attending school full time and nearly an equal percentage (55%) also reported that they were working more than 20 hours a week.

At least 15% of respondents reported having no income at all.

But it's not just lack of income impacting student-parents. Less than half reported having "very stable" access to housing (43%), food (45%), and internet (49%). And even smaller percentages had "very stable" access to transportation, financial resources, and childcare.

Instead, most student-parents rate their access to various resources as only slightly or moderately stable.

"The data is undeniable: These families are struggling to put food on the table … to keep a roof over their heads … to provide their kids with the things they need and deserve," Nicole Lynn Lewis, founder and CEO of Generation Hope, said in an interview with BestColleges.

"And education, while it's not a magic wand, is a powerful lever for these families when it comes to economic mobility. Yet childcare is such a significant barrier for these families being able to access that lever."

When it comes to childcare access, about half of student-parents (51%) said their institution does not offer any, while about 2 in 5 (41%) said they were unsure.

Even for the small percentage of student-parents whose institutions do offer childcare (8%), none of the respondents utilize it, citing the expense of the programs, the lack of open spots, and the inability of the programs to meet their child(ren)'s needs.

Most respondents reported they spend 30 hours or more a week personally caring for their child while also attending school (74%) and turn to family (66%) and their child's other parent (52%) for additional help.

"These findings also reinforce the racial disparities that exist across the country when it comes to families of color accessing high-quality and consistent childcare," Lewis said. "This is a part of an institution's diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work — it is not separate. It has to be woven into how the institution is addressing DEI."

To better support student-parents, the report suggests that institutions provide increased childcare options on campus and offer flexible education opportunities for students with caregiving responsibilities. Additionally, helping decrease high rates of needs-insecurity faced by student-parents will help improve their success in school.

But to do that, the first step is to collect data on the population of students who are parenting.

"What happens when you collect the data is that you have to start to address some of the disparities that the data unveils," Lewis said. "This population cannot continue to be invisible."