By Nicole Lynn Lewis

As a former young mother in college—at 19, I possessed both a beautiful infant daughter and an acceptance letter to the prestigious William & Mary but no clear path to my degree—I have a firsthand understanding of the various ways in which college is not built for student-parents. Sometimes the hurdles were subtle, such as not being able to register for the classes I needed for my major because they were offered at times when I had to be home with my daughter, or being unable to attend group-project meetings in the evenings because they were past her bedtime. Other times, the hurdles were so significant that they threatened my ability to stay enrolled. Take the never-ending challenge of finding affordable and reliable child care as a single mother, or how afraid I was to disclose to professors that I had a child, because the culture made clear that being a parent was an inconvenience that would not be accommodated. (Once, a professor told me that if I did not show up for class in the middle of winter, when my 2-year-old had walking pneumonia, she would fail me. So I bundled up my daughter and took her with me to class despite how miserable she was.)

Twenty years later, some colleges—many of them community colleges, which have the largest share of parenting students—have launched programs to support student-parents on their campuses. The City University of New York has invested in creating child-care options for students with daytime and evening hours, parenting workshops, and connections to community resources. In Atlanta, Morehouse College, the world’s only historically Black four-year liberal-arts college for men, has developed its Fathers to the Finish Line Initiative to help student-fathers complete their degrees by providing “academic support, mentorship, professional development, leadership training … and access to financial resources.” Although people might think this issue affects only mothers, fathers also need support in graduating. (In fact, Black fathers drop out at higher rates than any other student-parent group.) The Single Parent Scholar Program at Wilson College, in Pennsylvania, provides family-friendly on-campus housing year-round to single student-parents and their children. This is a rarity—just 8 percent of all U.S. colleges and universities offer on-campus housing for student-parents. In the fall of 2020, Wilson dropped its housing fee for participants in that program.

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