Higher education is essential to accessing high-demand jobs with family-supporting wages and improving family financial well-being. This was true before the COVID-19 pandemic and is especially true now as the nation continues the process of recovering from one of the worst public health, economic, and social crises in modern U.S. history. Early evidence suggests that the pandemic exacerbated barriers faced by student parents, affecting their college plans.

IWPR’s new brief, Supporting Student Parent Recovery through State Policy: Lessons from Georgia, Texas, and Washington State examines what states can do to help student parents as they pursue their academic careers post-pandemic.

Key highlights include:

  • Student parents have experienced compounded challenges triggered by the COVID-19 crisis. Nearly three quarters of student parents (70 percent) are mothers—who, in 2020, experienced significant unemployment, due in part to increased caretaking responsibilities stemming from child care and school closures, causing a loss of income and heightened basic needs insecurity.

  • Student parents sit at the nexus of race, gender, and class equity issues that were exacerbated by COVID-19. A third of Black college students are raising children, as are 29 percent of Indigenous, 30 percent of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 21 percent of Latinx students. And, 68 percent of student parents live with incomes near or below the federal poverty threshold.

  • Student parents are likely to have experienced enrollment declines as a result of conditions created by COVID-19. A 2020 Lumina-Gallup study, for example, found that college students with children were more likely than non-parents to have considered withdrawing from classes during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • During the 2020 to 2021 academic year, enrollment at community colleges—where the largest share of student parents were enrolled—declined by nearly 10 percent. One community and technical college system found that single parent enrollment declined by as much as 37 percent in fall 2020.

To ensure an equitable recovery, states must center the needs of student parents and work to expand their access to support. To this end, states should: (1) channel federal stimulus funds toward supporting institutions and services that promote student parents’ success (such as child care options, training for workforce reentry, and basic needs support); (2) actively engage in state-level policy reform to improve child care access for student parents; and (3) mobilize state-level action for student parents through campus-based supports and improved data collection across the state higher education system.