The Institute for Women's Policy Research issued a report in 2014, stating that 4.8 million college students were parents of dependent children. That adds up to around 26% of all college undergraduate students who attend community colleges, public and private four-year institutions, and for-profit institutions. These student parents are more likely to be women with a lower income and a higher drop-out rate. And upon graduation, student parents will be encumbered with more debt than their non-parenting peers.
To provide a means of collaboration for new and existing programs and universities interested in learning how to better serve student parents, on May 27-29, 2015, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion's ACCESS Collaborative Program hosted the 11th Annual Student Parent Support Symposium: “Opening Life Opportunities: Understanding the Two-Generational Approach to Poverty.” The symposium puts the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and The Ohio State University at the forefront of national issues by setting a proactive foundation for collective learning and intentional change.
“Research shows that the student parent population is rapidly growing. But by not eliminating the barriers that can keep those students from furthering their education, many two- and four-year colleges and universities aren't recognizing and supporting this population,” said Traci Lewis, director of the ACCESS Collaborative Program. She continued, “Supporting those students is important because, as one panelist stated, the cure for cancer may be in the mind of a student parent who can't attend college or continue once he or she gets there.”
Over the course of three days, professionals gathered at this nationally-acclaimed symposium to discuss best practices, challenges, program models, and collaboration with community resources when working with single parents, low-income parents, and their families and promoting support services in higher education for this unique population. Symposium participants were able to attend general and concurrent sessions, many of which focused on a two-generational approach to poverty, which works on improving education for children and job opportunities for parents at the same time. Other topics included collaboration to meet students' needs, best practices for family resources centers, mentoring models, and black student fathers. One workshop was dedicated to repurposing wasted space on campuses to meet child care needs, an important subject since the lack of child care options is a growing area of concern for colleges and universities and the student parents who attend them.
One of the highlights of the symposium was the keynote speaker, Ms. Anne Mosle, who is vice president of the Aspen Institute. In her current role at the Institute, Ms. Mosle directs Ascend, the national hub for breakthrough ideas and collaborations that move vulnerable children and their parents towards educational success and economic security. She spoke about the importance of building proof points and collecting data and how a two-generational approach can create “intergenerational cycles of opportunities” that help to close the education gap. As institutions and organizations work to find solutions to the pressing concerns of supporting student parents, Ms. Mosely stated that the most important question to ask is: “What changes in mindsets, structures and policies can be made that will get us moving forward?”
The 2015 Student Parent Support Symposium would not be possible without the generous support of its sponsors: The Ohio State University's College of Social Work, College of Education and Human Ecology, the Center for Higher education Enterprise, and the Women's Place. Additional support was given by UnitedHealthcare, Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing (OCCH) and Community Properties of Ohio Management Services (CPO Management).
The ACCESS Collaborative Program, which was established in 1989, was developed by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to help male and female single-parent students with full custody of their children earn an undergraduate degree at Ohio State and secure employment. ACCESS provides programming on parenting and life skills, child development, and financial planning; scholarship opportunities; mentoring; professional development; and evening child care. By minimizing the barriers that may prevent these students' full participation, ACCESS works to create a campus climate that is inclusive for all.