Washington, DC—

In the State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama identified higher education as a national domestic priority, and highlighted the fact that the U.S. had slipped to 12


among 36 developed nations in rates of college graduation. According to a new report by the

Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR)


greater access to on-campus child care facilities would increase opportunities for low-income student parents to complete postsecondary education, but only 5 percent of the child care needed by student parents is supplied at on-campus child centers.

Parents of dependent children make up nearly a quarter (3.9 million) of the 17 million undergraduate students in the United States, and half of those (1.9 million) are single parents. Women are the majority of students in postsecondary settings and they also make up a larger proportion of student parents.

The report,

Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents

, finds that the percentage of both two- and four-year campuses with on-site child care centers declined between 2002 and 2009. Community colleges are less likely to have on-site child care than four-year colleges despite the fact that more student parents attend community colleges.

Fewer than half of community college campuses have on-site child care available. Many centers have long waiting lists, with an average wait list of 90 children, and infant care is particularly scarce.

“Our interviews suggest that child care availability is the crucial element predicting student parent’s ability to complete school,” said Kevin Miller, Senior Research Analyst with IWPR and the report’s lead author. “Child care services are too often an afterthought for administrators and policy makers who strive to promote college completion.”

The path to education, employment, and eventual financial stability may be more difficult for student parents—not only because of financial and family commitments. They are less likely to have a parent who graduated from college, enter college with lower standardized test scores, and are more likely to work full time while attending school. In 2008, 40 percent of students at colleges and university were from low-income families.

In affirmation of these numbers, rates of completion of postsecondary education tend to be higher among non-parents. Child care is not only a critical factor in the decision to enroll in college for many parents, but also in their overall success.

The report offers solutions to bridging the gap in resources for student parents. Recommendations include creating a source of funding to expand child care facilities on campus and making child care a central component of services for student parents. In some cases, child care centers can also serve as a hub of other supports to student parents: housing food banks, offering classes and counseling, and providing connections to advisers and mentors.

“Postsecondary credentials are the surest route to economic well-being, and when a child sees a parent attend and complete college, it opens a world of possibilities that benefit the whole family,” said Barbara Gault, Executive Director and Vice President of IWPR and report co-author. “If we begin to view colleges as centers for learning across generations, our economy and society will benefit.”

IWPR interviewed 26 child care experts and campus program directors and conducted a survey of 84 members of the National Coalition of Children’s Centers, representing centers in over 30 states and the District of Columbia. IWPR conducted an additional survey of 52 child care centers recommended for promising practices or model programs. The report also analyzes data from the Department of Education, the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey (NPSAS), the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and the Community College Survey of Student Engagement.

The research was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR)

conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies. IWPR is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt organization that also works in affiliation with the women’s studies and public policy programs at George Washington University.