Urban Wire What Research Reveals about Young Parents Juggling School and Work
Laura Sullivan, Cary Lou
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The start of the academic year at colleges and universities can be an exciting time for students. But for students who are also parents, school can bring added stress, as classes and coursework are another responsibility to balance with the needs of their families. And many student parents are also working to help pay for school and support their families. In 2012, 2.3 million children had at least one young parent (defined here as a parent who had their first child when they were younger than 25) who was balancing work and education or training.

When these young parents are able to invest time in work and education along with their family commitments, they can secure long-term financial stability for themselves and their families. A recent Urban Institute report found that the more time young parents spend combining work with education, the higher their incomes were at age 30. But balancing all those responsibilities can be challenging, and parents may need additional supports to succeed.

Busy schedules create complex child care needs

Managing and coordinating schedules for various activities is one of the main challenges facing young student parents who also work. Our analysis of the National Survey of Early Care and Education found that in 2012, these parents spent an average of 46.5 hours per week in work or education, which was significantly more hours in these activities than parents who only worked.

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Access to child care is critical for young parents to be able to balance work and education with family responsibilities. Young parents balancing work and education rely on nonparental child care (often in the form of unpaid relative care) for more hours per day than those who only worked.

Additionally, young parents combining work and education spend more time in these activities during nontraditional hours, when child care options are more limited. Families that paid for child care and had a young, working student parent typically spent around 14 percent of their income across all children—twice the amount recommended (PDF) by the federal government.

How can we help young working parents advance their education?

Better supports, such as tuition assistance and child care subsidies, for young student parents who also work can help ensure they are able to complete their education and advance their professional prospects while also taking care of their families.

But even when resources are available to help with child care, parents often do not know about them. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that student parents either do not know about or had barriers to accessing programs to help pay for child care,  such as the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program and the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF). Another option is for parents to leverage federal student loans to pay for child care, but concerns with taking on additional student debt should also be considered.

According to the GAO report, an estimated 2.6 million student parents were not aware of the option to receive loans for child care through their federal student loans. CCAMPIS currently helps 3,300 parents with child care payments, but there are an additional 4,200 student parents on the waiting list. Additionally, only one-quarter (PDF) of children eligible for CCDF child care subsidies received them in 2015. 

More support for these programs could help expand their reach, but negotiations on the federal budget have stalled. Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act might also provide opportunities to better meet parents’ needs for child care while in college.

Whether assistance comes from policy or from education programs, support for young student parents who work as they advance their education can help them secure better futures for themselves and their children and benefit society at large.

Research Areas Families Workforce
Tags Workforce development Economic well-being Child care Parenting Child care and workers
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population