Brief Considerations for Postsecondary Data on Student Parenting Status
With Recommendations for the Field
Nathan Sick, Theresa Anderson, Autumn R. Green, Afia Adu-Gyamfi, Mary Ann DeMario
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At least 5.4 million postsecondary students are parenting. Parenting students have great academic potential and motivation, but they graduate at lower rates than nonparenting students and would benefit from additional supports to improve their opportunities to achieve education and life goals. Those supports are often undersupplied, largely because colleges and other supportive service providers struggle to characterize the extent of student-parent need.

A few states have passed laws or implemented rules to capture students’ parenting status, including Oregon, Illinois, California, and (temporarily) Michigan. But many issues in the field are not settled and quality student-parent data collection is not widespread.

This brief examines the current state of data collection relating to parenting students. We identify federal, state, and institution-level data student-parent data collection efforts. We also document 21 questions or definitions used for students’ parenting status, no two of which are the same. We show that adding conditions to a student-parent definition can drastically change the number who are counted—for example, imposing just three of the six conditions used in various definitions would reduce the national estimate by 13 percent.

Based on our review of current practices, definitions, and policies we propose the following student-parent definition:

A parenting student is someone who is enrolled in any level of education or training and is concurrently responsible for (or imminently will be responsible for) providing for a child of any age. They may be a biological parent, stepparent or unmarried coparent, adoptive parent, foster parent, guardian, grandparent, extended family member, or sibling caregiver.

This definition relies on few conditions, which aligns with the main goal of connecting students with available supports and the secondary goal of tracking the overall numbers of parenting students and learning about their characteristics, both locally and nationwide. We have identified three to four questions that can allow students to identify their parenting student status, pregnancy/expectancy status, number of child(ren) and age(s), and relationship status. Those statuses can then be cross-tabulated with other characteristics tracked in student academic records to understand subgroups that may need further support. We recommend collecting data for postsecondary students at all credential levels semesterly or annually, and ideally using a robust web-based application connected to course- and student-level administrative data.

As student-parent data collection becomes more common, there is an opportunity for colleges, systems, and governments to coordinate with each other and replicate successful strategies. These student-parent data can inform the design of, improvements to, and expansions of support systems for parenting students, which can help close opportunity gaps and help institutions attract and serve this population.

This brief is part of the Data-to-Action Campaign for Parenting Students, which is an initiative within the Student-Parent Action through Research Knowledge (SPARK) Collaborative. A focus on student-parent data collection is identified as a top priority in the Roadmap for Change to Support Pregnant and Parenting Students.

Research Areas Education Families Economic mobility and inequality
Tags Student parents Community colleges Higher education Assistance for women and children Beyond high school: education and training Child care Child care subsidies Economic well-being Financial stability K-12 education Mobility Parenting Paying for college Postsecondary education and training Racial equity in education Racial inequities in economic mobility Women and girls Youth employment and training Building America’s Workforce
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center
Research Methods Qualitative data analysis Quantitative data analysis Data collection Safely expanding data access