Student parents have the heart to succeed in college—let’s help them make it
Student Supports

Student parents have the heart to succeed in college—let’s help them make it

iStock / Mahsun

Parenting is hard—and even harder when trying to balance the pursuit of higher education and the demands of a job. That trifecta is enough to bring even the most ardent multitasker to a point of exhaustion.

We know that America’s 4 million student parents, most of them women and people of color, face obstacles in accessing higher education but bring a wealth of life skills, organizational ability, and a special commitment to reaching their goals. What they need is an equal determination on the part of colleges and universities to help them succeed. That means changing many higher-ed policies and practices that impede their success. And we’re encouraged by the work of one of our partners, Ascend at the Aspen Institute, which is helping them do that.

Ascend found that more than half of student parents were made to feel less welcome on campus. More than 40 percent reported feeling extreme stress, affecting their mental health and school success.

In 2011, Ascend started the Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative to help these students, and with new support from Lumina, will continue to build and expand this work. Ascend is developing supportive networks, providing increased aid, and identifying the needs of student parents with special attention to Black and Native American students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities.

While student parents represent all demographics, Black women are the largest group, with two in five raising children while in school. And more than a third of student parents who identify as American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander are parenting while attending school.

Lumina is proud to elevate this work and the alignment it has with our Equity First Commitment to make opportunities for learning more equitable, accessible, and affordable. We support the national goal of ensuring that 60 percent of Americans achieve a high-quality, post-high school degree or credential by 2025. And it’s clear that adult students, including those raising children, deserve our help and must be part of that success.

We know we’ll continue to see high school students moving from their bedrooms to their dorm rooms. But we also know there is room on campus for parenting students who may represent an older demographic but have a shared desire for success. We envision a higher education system that welcomes them, supports them, and helps them succeed. We can do that as a nation by investing in a more inclusive and equitable learning environment for all students – especially those who are raising the leaders of tomorrow.


[Zainab Okolo, Ed.D., is a strategy officer at Lumina Foundation, an independent foundation that works for racial equity as it helps all Americans keep learning beyond high school. She previously worked on HCM Strategists’ postsecondary team and is an expert on mental health issues through her experience as a licensed family therapist. Shauna Davis is Lumina Foundation’s strategy director for community college participation. Previously, she served as executive director of programs at Achieving the Dream and executive director of the Student Success Center and Office of Professional Development for the Virginia Community College System.]

Back to News