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College students with preschool-age children take longer to complete their degrees and are less likely to stay in college than their childless peers, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Higher Education.

The study explored the relationship between degree completion and parental status and determined that “time poverty” -- the lack of available time that student parents can spend studying and completing course work -- was a primary factor in degree completion. Students with preschool-age children had only about 10 hours per day to dedicate to schoolwork, sleeping, eating and leisure activities, compared to the 21 hours that childless students had. The study's abstract is available here.

Claire Wladis, a mathematics professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College at the City University of New York, conducted the research alongside Katherine Conway, a business professor and CUNY colleague, and Alyse Hachey, an education professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.

"I think a lot of the motivation for the theory and the idea that this was important for students came from serving as advisers for community college students and seeing that they just didn’t have enough time … for work, for academics," Wladis said.

The group used transcript and survey data from 15,385 students at two- and four-year colleges at CUNY and controlled for whether the student had a live-in partner. Two-thirds of the student parents surveyed said that childcare services did not provide them with enough time to complete their academic work, and three-fourths of those students were on financial aid.

"I think an interesting finding is that student parents actually do much better in college than you’d expect if you control for how much time they’re spending," Wladis said. "Student parents precisely have a really strong incentive to go to college and to do well in college because it can pay off for their children."

Congress increased federal investment in financial aid for student parents in 2016 by upping the funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program (CCAMPIS), a federal aid program for student parents, from $15 million to $50 million annually.

But meanwhile, the number of institutions that offer childcare is declining, according to a briefing paper by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

“Despite the growing need for student parent supports, campus child care centers have been closing across the country. In 2015, less than half of four-year public colleges provided campus child care, down from 55 percent in 2003-05,” the briefing paper read. “The share of community colleges reporting the presence of a campus child care center declined more sharply -- from 53 percent in 2003-04, to 44 percent in 2015.”

Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, study director for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said that publicizing the necessity of childcare for student parents is critical to solving the problem.

“The more we can put out research that shows that direct link between access to childcare and student graduation rates, the better,” she said.

Wladis advocated for a restructuring of how colleges assess financial need.

"Currently, students are expected to work to pay for family expenses while they go to school. I think that’s a negative aspect of existing policies," she said. "If we give them financial aid to go to college, but we make them work to pay for family expenses, then we’re throwing a little bit of that money away."

Making it easier for student parents to bring their children to campus and removing hurdles, such as strict attendance requirements, that may unfairly harm student parents is also important.

“Just having the ability to bring your child on campus to meetings, or while you’re studying, or while you’re in the library can make a huge difference. It’s the small things that add up that really make their lives easier,” Reichlin Cruse said. “Not having to worry about shame or negative consequences from faculty and staff or their peers … is huge.”

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