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A mother holds her baby while playing with toys

Colleges can support student parents’ education by accommodating their unique needs with space and facilities.

Student parents make up around 22 percent of all learners in higher education, and over half of them are single parents. As single parents, students often require additional support and resources to juggle both their academics and their responsibilities to their child or children.

Making spaces on campus for student parents to feel like they belong and can be connected to their peers is important, Rachel Kubczak, director of the Student Parent Success Program at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee told Inside Higher Ed.

“When we empower our parenting students to graduate and pursue not only their academic goals but also professional and career goals, they are improving the outcomes for not just themselves, but their whole family, as well as future generations,” Kubczak says.

Inside Higher Ed compiled three examples of campus spaces that prioritize and accommodate student parents.

  1. Lactation stations

For new parents, finding a space to feed their baby or pump can be a struggle, so some institutions have created lactation spaces throughout campus.

West Virginia University added a lactation space at the campus basketball stadium in February, the 12th lactation space on campus for community members to nurse in private. The space allows nursing students and other WVU fans to enjoy game day without worries about pumping.

The University of Nevada at Reno has a Lactation Advocacy Subcommittee, which maintains 10 lactation rooms on and off campus for students and employees, growing facilities on campus since 2011. Lactation spaces are available in the student union, the continuing education building and the university health center, among others.

  1. Childcare facilities

The high cost of childcare can be a barrier to pursuing higher education and completing a degree. Colleges and universities can ease this strain by offering financial support for outside care or by supporting their own childcare facilities.

A March survey from Generation Hope found 71 percent of student parents in the Washington, D.C., region rely on informal or unpaid childcare, and 92 percent do not have access to or are unaware of on-campus childcare options.

The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee reserves over 100 spots in its Children’s Learning Center for student parents and uses grant funding to keep care costs low.

Utah Valley University houses its Wee Care Center within the Women’s Success Center, offering care for children from 6 weeks to 6 years old. The Wee Center also has two outdoor play areas and a mothers’ room for nursing.

  1. Kid-friendly spaces

Creating a campus environment that is supportive and inclusive of family lifestyles can also improve retention and belonging among parents.

Howard Community College in Maryland opened a family-friendly study space in March, offering computers, whiteboards, comfortable seating, a TV, a DVD player, an interactive touch table, books, games and magazines for parents and their children.

Onondaga Community College, part of the State University of New York system, created a Parent and Adult Learner Suite in December 2022 in Mawhinney Hall, a central building on campus with a café and a collection of classrooms. Inside the room, parents can find a study space, lounge space, playroom, changing and nursing room, school supplies, and children’s clothing exchange.

Do you have a success tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

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