Going to College with Kids: Understanding the campus climate for parenting students

A white paper by Kelly M. Purtell, PhD; Ruri Famelia, PhD; Mitsu Narui, PhD; Laura M. Justice, PhD shares valuable insights and perceptions of parenting students.

Parenting students are a growing population at colleges and universities, yet little research has been done about their perceptions, needs, and experiences. This white paper presents findings from a qualitative research study that was conducted to learn more about parenting students’ perceptions of their campus climates, as well as recommendations for policy makers, researchers, and university administrators.  It is rooted in valuable first-hand perspectives and quotes from parenting students that are a must-read for anyone interested in improving equity, college completion rates, and outcomes for this growing student demographic.

A quick description of the study:

Crane Center researchers conducted two focus groups involving 11 parenting-student participants from a traditional, urban public university, who ranged in age from 19 to 35 years old. (The majority of parents were mothers.) They were recruited from a program designed to provide special supports to parenting students.

The study’s aim was to document parenting students’ perceptions of campus climate, explore how it impacts them, and learn about their ideas to improve campus climate.

Campus climate refers to the attitudes, behaviors, standards and practices that concern the access for, the inclusion of, and level of respect for individual and group needs, abilities, and potential (Rankin & Reason, 2008).

Key findings:

Focus group participants shared about their experiences and perceptions that their campus climate was largely unwelcoming to them.

Participants explained the tension they felt between their identities as parents and as students, and expressed feeling negatively judged and/or not included by others on campus based on their parenthood status.

Many said that events and activities offered on campus were not accommodating to their needs as parenting students.

Participants also highlighted the importance of university investments in special accommodations for parenting students, e.g., housing and child care supports.

Overall, the analysis suggests that traditional college campuses may not be well-equipped to support the needs of parenting students in both subtle and obvious ways. Specific efforts, such as changing the public spaces on campuses to be amenable to children and strollers, and working to reduce the stigma of being a parenting students on campus, are needed to improve the experiences of parenting students and ultimately their likelihood of success in their educational pursuits.

To read more about these findings, as well as key recommendations, check out the full paper.

Join the conversation on Twitter:

Here are some sample tweets to get you started.

Parenting students are a rapidly growing and often invisible population on traditional university campuses. @CraneCenterOSU’s latest white paper documents parenting students’ perceptions of campus climate: https://bit.ly/Student-Parents-Paper 

Little research has explored the experience of parenting students, @CraneCenterOSU’s white paper shares findings learned directly from focus groups: https://bit.ly/Student-Parents-Paper

According to @CraneCenterOSU newest white paper, parenting students often find campus activities inattentive to their unique needs: https://bit.ly/Student-Parents-Paper

Learn more:

Check out some of our other work on this topic.

DeVaughn Croxton, Crane Center program assistant working on CCAMPIS, discusses the unique needs of parenting students and offers three concrete needs that higher education should consider. Watch the video here.

As both a researcher studying parenting students in university settings and the child of a parenting student, this Crane Center program assistant writes from his unique perspective to share how institutes of higher education can provide more equitable opportunities to parents within their student populations. Check out the blog here.