Colleges Start Catering to Student Parents

Adult students have been returning to college in waves lately, prompted by the convenience of online classes and by the pressure to find a job in a rough economy. However, earning a degree in mid-life can spark scheduling conflicts between reserving time for class work and continuing extracurricular commitments, like jobs and family. So many universities are lending a hand by offering flexible scheduling, part-time degrees and — increasingly — day care for students’ children. The pressures of raising a family can also force traditional undergraduates to choose between parenting and learning. A growing number of students decide to drop out of college when faced with that choice, according to Brent McBride, a professor of human development at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Here are some schools that are fighting back.

  • University of Illinois. Student-parents of all ages face a trio of challenges, including a lack of money, a lack of support and understanding, and the mounting pressure of familial responsibilities. By offering affordable, high-quality campus day care, the University of Illinois can “take one big headache out of the equation,” McBride said. “The Illinois college helps the student-parent, because it’s one less ball that they have to juggle,” said McBride. “Trying to balance school and parenting is a tough thing to balance, especially if you’re a young single parent.” Student-parents tend to drop out of college at three times the rate of traditional students, but campus day care pushes back against that pressure by acting as a support network for the students themselves, providing an environment where they can trade childcare tips with sympathetic peers.
  • University of Wisconsin. The challenge of childcare is even tougher for parents seeking care for the youngest of children — infants and toddlers. Even a major research institution like the University of Wisconsin in Madison had no options for infant care on campus as recently as 1997, forcing many students, research assistants and professors to abandon their studies after having a baby. Then, the Wisconsin college hired Lynn Edlefson as director of the Office of Child Care and Family Resources, and by 1999, the school had opened its first on-campus infant/toddler center. “I think that my position really helped people focus on childcare needs, and I tried to make sure that people were speaking up within the campus planning meetings,” Edlefson says. Planners say it can be difficult to carve out space on a busy campus for a childcare building, with its demands for first-floor rooms and outdoor play space. However, proponents like Edlefson have raised the issue’s profile. Today, her office coordinates 10 centers that care for 700 children per week, ranging in age from from six weeks to six years.
  • Indiana University. Since 1996, faculty, staff and students at Indiana University Bloomington have trusted their children to the school’s Early Childhood Education Services (ECES) office. The main site, called the Campus Children’s Center, offers care for children aged six weeks through five years, while other spots, such as Campus View Child Care focuses on younger kids, between six weeks and three years old. The program provides year-round care and education, as well as serving the school’s educational mission by acting as a training opportunity. Like many schools, this Indiana university uses its childcare centers as academic resources, opening them up as laboratories for research and teaching in psychology, communication, nursing, education, and human development and family studies. Universities across the nation have founded child care centers on their campuses in recent years, in an effort to attract and retain the most talented students and teachers, and their families, too.