New Playbook Outlines 5 Ways Higher Education Institutions Can Support Student Parents

David Croom | May 3, 2023 | Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents, Press Releases

Ascend at the Aspen Institute’s new resource includes promising strategies that postsecondary institutions have used to support the success of the 1 in 5 college students raising children

Washington, DC – Ascend at the Aspen Institute released a new resource outlining five promising strategies that leading postsecondary institutions have used to support the success of their parenting students. From better data collection to co-creating family-friendly spaces on campus, the new “Tapping the Talent of Student Parents: A Playbook for Postsecondary Leaders,” underscores how institution leaders can tap the expertise of their student parents to develop sustainable solutions that work for their school.

Nationally, one in five college students is a parent, numbering nearly 4 million undergraduates in the US. Most student parents are students of color and are disproportionately single mothers. They represent a key student group for higher education institutions interested in addressing equity gaps.

In 2020, Ascend established the Postsecondary Leadership Circle, a group of more than 20 college and university leaders to advise the Postsecondary Success for Parents (PSP) Initiative. This Playbook compiles promising strategies from members of the Leadership Circle, who are spearheading innovative practices and family-friendly strategies on their campuses that advance postsecondary pathways for student parents across the country.

“When institutions realize that there are many more student parents on their campus than they thought, knowing where to start on supporting their success can be overwhelming,” said David Croom, Associate Director for Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative at Ascend. “Rather than a 10,000 foot view on the issues, we wanted to get really specific and detailed about what institutions can do now and over the long term. We want those who are new to this work to see themselves in the solutions.”

The playbook outlines five promising practices advanced at a range of institutions that support student parent success including:

  • Promising Practice #1: Identify, collect, and analyze data on student parents to understand who they are and what would support their success. Specific practices include using student data systems or other existing sources to identify student parents on campus and developing surveys or focus groups of student parents.
  • Promising Practice #2: Recognize student parent expertise as an essential part of co-creating solutions and strengthening connections on campus. Institutions can consider including student parents on task forces or advisory groups or as peer advisors for other students.
  • Promising Practice #3: Refine messaging and communications to be inclusive of and welcoming to student parents. For instance, institutions can show the faces of student parents in marketing materials and on social media.
  • Promising Practice #4: Identify or create family-friendly spaces on campus where student parents can be both students and parents. This may include providing physical locations on campus where parents can bring their children and reserving spaces for student parent affinity groups at times that are convenient to parenting schedules.
  • Promising Practice #5: Provide new, expanded, or targeted supports, services, and facilities for student parents on and off campus to advance their academic success. Institutions can consider strengthening, and improving the awareness of, services and facilities needed by the student parent population, including child care.

“Declining enrollment, equity, parenting – these are hard, complex shifts that postsecondary leaders must navigate, but what we hope this Playbook shows is that they don’t have to start from scratch,” Croom said.

Read “Tapping the Talent of Student Parents: A Playbook for Postsecondary Leaders,” at



The Postsecondary Leadership Circle is a prestigious group of more than 20 college and university leaders that advise the Postsecondary Success for Parents (PSP) Initiative – a multiyear effort to raise awareness of and share recommendations to better support students who are parents. The inaugural cohort of the Postsecondary Leadership Circle includes:

  • Roslyn Clark Artis, President, Benedict College
  • Pam Eddinger, President, Bunker Hill Community College
  • Sue Ellspermann, President, Ivy Tech Community College
  • Michael Flores, Chancellor, Alamo Colleges District
  • Gregory Fowler, President, University of Maryland Global Campus, and former President, Southern New Hampshire University Global Campus
  • Barry Gribbons, President, Los Angeles Valley College
  • Maria Harper-Marinick, Ascend Fellow and former Chancellor, Maricopa County Community College District (retired)
  • Carrie Hauser, President and CEO, Colorado Mountain College
  • Anne Kress, President, Northern Virginia Community College
  • Russell Lowery-Hart, President, Amarillo College
  • Eduardo Padrón, Ascend Fellow and President Emeritus, Miami Dade College (retired)
  • DeRionne Pollard, President, Nevada State College and former President, Montgomery College
  • Carol Probstfeld, President, State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota
  • Félix Matos Rodriguez, Ascend Fellow and Chancellor, City University of New York
  • Susan Mingo, President, Washington County Community College
  • Mark Mitsui, former President, Portland Community College (retired)
  • Juan Salgado, Chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago
  • William Serrata, Ascend Fellow and President, El Paso Community College
  • Laurel Vermillion, President, Sitting Bull College
  • Suzanne Elise Walsh, President, Bennett College
  • Daria Willis, Ascend Fellow, President, Howard Community College and former President, Everett Community College
  • Kathie Winograd, Ascend Fellow, Executive Director of Economic FORUM of Albuquerque and former President, Central New Mexico Community College

Ascend at the Aspen Institute is a catalyst and convener for diverse leaders working across systems and sectors to build intergenerational family prosperity and well-being by intentionally focusing on children and the adults in their lives together. We believe in  the power of co-creation. We are a community of leaders – well-connected, well-prepared, and well-positioned – building political will that transforms hearts, minds, policies, and practices.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing communities at home and around the world. For more information, visit


Contact: Kathy Lugo
Communications Officer
Ascend at the Aspen Institute

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