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To ensure student parents are wholly supported in their educational pathways, research is needed to understand the connection between quality, affordable child care and student parents’ academic outcomes. Yet several challenges persist that make rigorous study of this connection difficult.

Drawing on interviews with campus child care directors and a review of data and relevant literature, this brief presents a snapshot of the availability and importance of campus child care services for student parent success. It concludes with recommendations to improve conditions for rigorous research on the role of campus child care in the outcomes of college students with children.

Research highlights include:

  •  Nearly four million U.S. undergraduate students—or 22 percent—are raising children while attending a postsecondary education program, according to the most recent data.

  • Over the last decade, the share of public academic institutions offering child care services has declined by 14 percentage points—from 59 percent in 2004 to 45 percent in 2019.

  • Challenges to evaluating the impact of child care on student outcomes include: (1) the complexity and diversity of services provided across campus child care centers; (2) the low rates of slot turnover and the uneven processes of assigning open slots to families from a wait list; and (3) the lack of data linking student parent postsecondary success to child care use.

  • To rigorously study how access to campus child care may affect students’ academic outcomes, the authors recommend:

    • Campus child care centers: Establish lottery systems to fill slots when opening new campus child care centers or when opening new classrooms at an existing center;

    • Institutions: Regularly collect and analyze data on the parental status of all enrolled students and track the academic outcomes of students served by campus child care centers (as well as those on the wait list) to lend insight into the scope of demand for campus-based services; and
    • States: Require institutions to regularly collect and report on students’ parental status and the age of their children; create opportunities for linking and accessing data across state systems; and direct state funding to the campus child care system to expand services for student parents in need of child care.

This brief was authored in partnership with Insight Policy Research.