How Can We Help Our Student Parents?

Follow-Up: Student Parent Advocacy Workshop

This post was co-authored by Dr. Katia Levintova, a 2021-22 EDI Consultant, and Shannon Ribich, a 2021-22 EDI Intern.

How much do any of us know about the number of student parents in our classes or on our campus in general? What educational resources and solutions do our student parents want that we can, or already do, offer?

According to a campus survey and the childcare support program at the Dean of Students office, UWGB numbers are consistent with national statistics—about 16–20% of our students are also parents. They encompass all genders, they are veterans and consummate professionals, they are first generation students and returning students, and they represent various ethnic and racial groups. In many ways, they are just like the rest of our student body, but in many ways they are not. For one, student parents not only work 30+ hours a week on average, but also devote 10 hours a day to childcare responsibilities, leaving them with only 9 hours a day for sleeping, taking classes, studying, and any leisure activities. These precious 9 hours also often come in small increments, not in one block of time that coincides with typical class offerings.

Our student parents are also routinely disadvantaged when it comes to classroom policies, especially involving attendance and group work. They lack access to many high-impact practices or HIPs (especially study abroad opportunities, teaching assistantships, and leadership of student orgs), campus resources, and on-campus events. They do not have a sense of belonging on campus, but they value support, encouragement, and recognition of their dedication and persistence. And support has been coming, albeit not very fast.

The Taskforce on Student Caregiving, a new subcommittee of the UW System Caregiving Taskforce, recommends centralization of information about on campus resources and allies for student parents, priority course registration, better data collection reflecting the student parent population on campus, childcare subsidies, and universal childcare acknowledgements/statements in the syllabi. Nationally recognized best practices also include student parent-led and -focused campus orgs (to build community and network), specialized advising (ex: student orientation designed for student parents), cohorts, inclusion of student parents in marketing and campus materials, and access to changing tables and lactation rooms.

Some of these recommendations have already been implemented on our campus. Take, for example, our Dean of Students’ childcare support program, funded both by the federal grant and by UWGB SGA childcare student fees. We do have a lactation room and meeting rooms specifically for student parents, but more needs to be done. To this end, participants in the “Student Parent Advocacy Workshop” (held on campus on March 24, 2022) brought up several solutions that we can implement with relative ease and without major financial implications.

  • Priority registration was one universal theme and, in this regard, the work on our campus has begun. Participants also stressed the need for more evening classes options for in-person courses, like labs and practicums, though increased evening, online, and hybrid offerings for student parents should extend beyond the sciences and medical fields.
  • Another proposed initiative would aggregate all available student parents-related resources on campus—including the priority registration process—on one page, to be linked from the Dean of Students childcare support program page.
  • In our classrooms, CATL can help by adding to already existing syllabus checklists two additional items: (1) a child care syllabus statement and (2) sample attendance policies ensuring that all pregnancy and caregiving-related absences will be automatically excused.
  • Student parents are often distracted by the needs of their children and have shorter uninterrupted periods of time to devote to their studies. While preparing course materials, instructors might consider using shorter videos or reading materials (or breaking up longer materials into smaller chunks) which makes it easier to digest and retain the information.
  • For access to HIPs, there is funding available in the Dean of Students’ childcare support program specific for participation in HIPs. However, we also need to promote these learning experiences to student parents and be more intentional about inviting them to participate in undergraduate research, teaching assistantships, and internships—the three HIPs that seem to be more accessible to student parents. For study broad access (a persistent problem), shorter trips or a destination with childcare facilities on campus might offer partial solutions as well.

So, what is next? Please expect continued work by student parent advocates and allies on our campus. You will recognize them by the “Student Parent Advocate” badges that were awarded for participating in this year’s programs highlighting student caregiving.

If all of us are more aware of the increasing presence of student parents on our campus and in our classrooms, are sensitive to their unique needs, and make these sensible changes in our teaching and student support roles, we will create a more inclusive community where student parents, too, feel a sense of belonging. They are, after all, truly modeling the essence of transformative education for the next generation of learners and, potentially, our future students!

Student Parent Advocacy Workshop (Mar. 24, 12-1 p.m.)

As part of their equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) work this semester, Shannon Ribich (2021-22 EDI Intern) and Katia Levintova (2021-22 EDI Embedded Faculty Consultant) would like to invite everyone interested, to their workshop on helping student parents to have better educational experiences. This workshop is scheduled for Thursday, March 24, 12-1 via Zoom. In this workshop, Shannon and Katia will discuss the most pressing educational problems of student parents, especially access to HIPs, offer some solutions (both nationally and on our own campus) and then will ask participants to contribute their ideas on what we can do better institutionally and in our own areas and use it as a beginning of action plans (both institutional and personal ones).

Participants will receive badges recognizing their contributions in addressing this issue on our campus.

Register here to save your seat and get a calendar reminder

Resources and Follow-Up

You can read a follow-up blog post on this event by Katia Levintova and her EDI student intern Shannon Ribich here. If you are interested in completing reflective activities to earn a badge on this topic, you can also email CATL@uwgb.edu for more information.

“I’ll never forget...I had to go to campus to take an exam and I had no other option but to bring my daughter with me because I didn’t have childcare. I sat in the chair and asked if she could just sit by me while I took it. They told me I couldn’t.” 

Follow-Up: Student Parent Advocacy Panel

This post was co-authored by Dr. Katia Levintova; Shannon Ribich, a 2021-22 Equity, and Inclusion Intern; and Kate Farley, one of CATL’s Teaching, Learning, and Technology Consultants. 

Katia Levintova (Democracy and Justice Studies | 2021-22 EDI Consultant) facilitated a panel of student parents—Anthony Blake, Candace Hoch, and Carl Woitekaitis—on Nov. 11, 2021, from 12–1 via Zoom. Dr. Levintova led the discussion by reviewing the findings from her forthcoming publication with Dr. Kim Reilly (Democracy and Justice Studies) and summarized some of the survey data and challenges they collected about student parents at UWGB, which are consistent with the national statistics and trends.  

  • Survey of student parents and non-parents on our campus revealed that student parents take significantly longer to complete their degrees but have comparable or higher GPAs than their non-parent peers. 
  • Student parents prefer online and hybrid formats of instruction over other modalities.  
  • They are also more likely to use Veteran Lounge, MESA, and Career Services and less likely to use the Wellness Center, Learning Center, and, especially, Kress Event Center compared to their non-parent counterparts.  
  • Student parents lag behind non-parent students in accessing HIPs, especially teaching assistantships, undergraduate research opportunities, study abroad, and leadership of student organizations. 
  • Student parents are much less likely to attend co- and extra-curricular offerings on our campus, but the lack of access and ability to partake in these important educational offerings does not mean that they are not interested in having meaningful and challenging learning experiences.  
  • On a classroom level, student parents report facing additional challenges with group projects and certain classroom policies and types of assignments.  

In the panel, Dr. Levintova asked the students questions about whether their experiences as a student parent were typical or not; what things instructors have done that have helped them succeed; and what access barriers exist at UWGB for participating in high-impact practices and co-curricular activities. Here are some ways we can make our university and our courses more student parent friendly. 

Changes to Advocate for at an Institutional Level 

  • Create student parent groups that allow students to co-op for things like notetaking, childcare, or other resources. 
  • Provide options for childcare that are either financially subsidized or are available on campus, including drop-off options for student parents so that they can attend campus events and utilize campus services. 
  • Consider partnerships with NWTC or UWGB Early Childhood Development students/faculty to provide childcare. 
  • Create flexible paths through a program so that students can graduate more quickly. 
  • Have more family-oriented extra-curricular events on campus for student parents to bring their children to campus. 
  • Create opportunities for student parents to engage in internships, undergraduate research, or peer mentoring in the major. 
  • Offer more creative ways to accommodate student parents’ lack of time, including rethinking how we count hours for internships and offering more paid internships to compensate for lost income of working parents. 
  • Increase awareness or advertisement of services such as the Wellness Center and Learning Center, which are currently underutilized by student parents. 

Changes You Can Make in the Classroom 

  • Share your syllabi with students ahead of time. 
  • Create multiple options for students to participate in the class (synchronous and asynchronous). 
  • If the classes you teach are synchronous, consider using class time for group work. 
  • If the classes you teach are asynchronous, consider asking students about scheduling challenges they might have, and intentionally group students together who may have similar availability. 
  • For students unable to contribute to group assignments or in-class assignments, create alternative individual assignments and state it on the syllabus. 
  • Grade group work individually. 
  • Provide a statement about flexibility on your syllabi that explicitly lists caregiving as something you would like students to share with you so that you can accommodate them. 
  • Assume good intent and trust your students. 

This was the first event in the year-long programming designed to make our classrooms and our academic offerings more student parent friendly. Participants who attend these events or engage with these resources about creating more inclusive class environments are eligible to earn a badge through CATL. Keep an eye out in March for the next event in this programming series.