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Howard Community College in Maryland opened its first family-friendly study space on campus earlier this month. The room is designed to give parenting students a place to study and keep their children safe and (hopefully) occupied.

What it includes: The Family Study Room, located in the college’s library, has computers, whiteboards, comfy seats, a TV, a DVD player, an interactive touch-screen table, age-appropriate books, games, magazines and more.

How it happened: Howard president Daria Willis got the idea for the space when she toured the library last year upon beginning her tenure at the college. Willis, who was herself a parent while in college, also helped plan a family library space in her previous post as president of Everett Community College in Washington State.

Willis says there’s “still a stigma around pregnant and parenting students in higher education today. In my experience, I was just two steps away from having to stop my education when I became pregnant as a college student. I remember taking my daughter to the library with no support.”

Her goal as college president now is to “normalize parenthood, ensure every student parent is supported and that resources are available to help them succeed.”

Who it’s for: Howard Community College estimates that one in four of its students have children living at home with them. Nationally, about one in five college students is a parent. While these students are more likely to drop out than their nonparent peers due to family, financial and other pressures, parenting students tend to have higher grade point averages than other students.

“I want all my student parents at Howard Community College to feel welcome here,” Willis says, “as we believe in providing a two-generational approach to educating the whole family.”

More than a room: Howard Community College tries to make its campus inclusive of parents who are students, as well as their children, where possible. Children are welcome at athletic and special arts events, and the college will be giving out stuffed mini dragons (Howard’s mascot), stickers and coloring books at commencement this year.

The college has a single-parent cohort program called Career Links, which provides counseling (career and personal), scholarships, and additional supports, as well. Faculty members are encouraged to be family-friendly in their own policies.

Generation Hope recently surveyed student parents participating in its scholar program in the Washington, D.C., region. According to Generation Hope’s related report, “The Child Care Barrier: The Impacts of Inaccessible and Costly Child Care for Student Parents”:

  1. 78 percent of student parents wish their campuses did more to support their childcare needs.
  2. 71 percent relied on informal and/or unpaid childcare.
  3. 92 percent either do not have access to or were unaware of on-campus childcare options.
  4. 82 percent are living below the national poverty line.

The report recommends that campuses and policy makers:

  1. Collect and track students’ parenting and caregiving statuses.
  2. Provide more on-campus childcare specifically for student parents and their families.
  3. Increase funding for childcare support for student parents, as federal funding for childcare subsidies isn’t enough.
  4. Adopt flexible, adaptable policies to accommodate parenting students’ different needs and approaches.
  5. Combine basic needs support with education and career pathways.

In context: Nicole Lynn Lewis, founder and CEO of Generation Hope, a nonprofit that supports teen parents and their children in college and school, respectively, says that “looking across higher ed, family-friendly spaces on college campuses are pretty rare.” (Beyond study rooms, such spaces include lactation areas and diaper-changing stations.) Yet family-friendly spaces are “hugely important,” Lewis adds, “and part of a larger effort that needs to happen across an institution to really become family-friendly.”

Building a culture: To build a culture that “truly embraces parents—that communicates that they belong, that they're welcomed and that they're celebrated at that school—you also have to ensure that your staff and faculty are supportive of parenting students,” Lewis says. Are they sensitive to the needs of parenting students? Do they “recognize these students as assets and not liabilities in their classrooms?”

Lewis advises that institutions assess their marketing materials—along with their enrollment, academic support and financial aid policies—for how they represent parenting students. And these students must be part of conversations about setting family-friendly policies, she adds. (Generation Hope’s FamilyU Cohort program works with institutions seeking to better support students with children and always urges the involvement of parenting students.)

More family study rooms:

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