New Fact Sheet and Mental Health Brief: Understanding and Supporting Student Parents

April 11, 2019 | Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents

With 22 percent of the undergraduate student population comprised of parents with children, policymakers and institutions must explore the unique needs of this population and address the challenges that may prevent parents from attaining their degree. This includes determining what systems, services, and approaches best support their mental health needs.

As part of the Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents (PSP) Initiative, Ascend is releasing a fact sheet in partnership with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that breaks down the most recent data on students who are parents, and a brief outlining opportunities for policymakers and academic institutions to adapt existing mental health services in order to  meet the unique needs of student parents and help them complete their degree. 

The Parents in College: By the Numbers fact sheet features new analysis of data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. Top takeaways include:  

  • More than one in five college students – or 22 percent of all undergraduates – are parents. 
  • The largest share of student parents is enrolled in community colleges (42 percent of all student parents are community college students). 
  • Nearly half of the for-profit student body are parents. 
  • Over a quarter of all women and two in five black women in college are mothers. 
  • The majority of student parents have children under age 6. 
  • Parents, particularly black parents, take on significant student debt. 
  • Student parents achieve higher grade point averages than other students; 1/3 of student parents have a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

Download the infographics and social media graphics to share the new data with your networks, and check out IWPR’s press release to learn more about the data analysis.  

Mental health challenges — including depression and anxiety — can be a barrier to both academic and parental success for students who are parents. While there are studies linking a parent’s mental health to their child’s success, and research showing how a parent’s educational attainment can put their family on a strong path to economic stability, addressing the mental health needs of students who are parents is an emerging field. 

Ascend’s Identifying and Addressing Mental Health Needs of Students Who are Parents brief outlines what we know about mental health in new parents and postsecondary students, and how those needs intersect in the student parent population. Policymakers and academic institutions can design mental health services that work for parents.  

Policy solutions include:

  • Improve access to affordable, quality child care. 
  • Help students leverage safety net supports 
  • Improve access to mental health services. 

Campus solutions include:  

  • Help parents who are students access financial support. 
  • Support social networks. 
  • Tailor services with a parental lens. 
  • Remove the stigma. 

With mental health challenges on the rise among all college students, ensuring academic institutions understand and are equipped to address the specific needs of postsecondary students who are parents is critical to helping those students succeed. 

Parent and nonparent students face similar stressors, including time and financial constraints as well as feelings of isolation and trouble making social connections, a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting the mental health needs of postsecondary students is short sighted.  Parents who are students have a unique set of needs and require services and supports that work for an entire family, not just the student. 

Two-generation (2Gen)  programs  and policies create opportunities that allow adults  and the children in their lives to build on each other’s successes. Investments  in  the postsecondary success  of  parents with young children  can increase attainment  of  credentials  leading  to  good jobs, bring children  the  benefits of high-quality  learning  environments , promote  later college-going among children,  and  improve family economic security across generations. 

This brief and fact sheet are part of a suite of materials to be published through late 2019 that elevate a set of parent-informed recommendations for student parents’ success. 

Please read the first two reports for policymakers and practitioners to learn more about our initial recommendations; check out a new blog by PSP Parent Advisor Lesley Del Rio, who recently restarted her journey towards postsecondary completion and was able to build social capital through participating fully in PSP convenings and developing new networks of support; and stay tuned for more insights, including a model and framework for philanthropists and postsecondary leaders in the coming months.

Related Posts

Today, Ascend at the Aspen Institute announced that eight Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) have joined its Black and Native Family Futures Fund.
Press ReleasesDecember 13, 2022
Yolanda Johnson-Peterkin was taught to always take care of those around her, but didn’t always see education as a way of doing so After dropping out of school and later finding herself incarcerated and pregnant, Yolanda became determined to change the course of her life. Once she was released, Yolanda focused on establishing a relationship …

‘1 in 5’ Season 2 Episode 5: Meet Yolanda Johnson-Peterkin Read More »

Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsDecember 1, 2022
Drayton Jackson experienced homelessness for almost 20 years. Today, Drayton utilizes his lived experience to advocate for others in a similar position—but it wasn’t always easy adjusting to having a seat at the table. Drayton, now the father of eight, is setting boundaries and goals for himself to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Along with …

‘1 in 5’ Season 2 Episode 4: Catching up with Drayton Jackson Read More »

Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsDecember 1, 2022
1 in 5 Student Parent Podcast
Soren’s interest in higher education has always been rooted in an interest in the environment, even from childhood. As an adult, after struggling with their own mental health, Soren became interested in psychology, and pursued jobs in the medical field, but was soon discouraged by the for-profit medical system. Soren went through challenging transitions in …

‘1 in 5’ Season 2 Episode 3: Meet Soren Read More »

Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsDecember 1, 2022
Ignacio Angel has decided to define for himself what success looks like as a college student and father of four. The for-profit trade school he went to, which was later investigated for preying on vulnerable students, never delivered on promises of a job, and landed him in debt. With Lilly’s help, he found a support …

‘1 in 5’ Season 2 Episode 2: Meet Ignacio Angel Read More »

Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsDecember 1, 2022
Dr. Daria Willis brings her extensive education and her own experience as a student parent to her role as president of Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland. Daria had her daughter, Lyric, during her first year in college. She shares how keenly she felt the social stigma of being a single parent. It took a …

‘1 in 5’ Season 2 Episode 1: Meet Daria Willis Read More »

Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsDecember 1, 2022
Today, Ascend at the Aspen Institute (Ascend) released the second season of “1 in 5,” its highly rated podcast that explores the multifaceted lives of the one in five college students raising children.
Press ReleasesDecember 1, 2022
1 in 5 Student Parent Podcast
The 1 in 5 podcast vividly profiles students who are parents pursuing their education while raising a family and working. Today, more than one in five college students (22%) are parents. The experiences of students who are parents should not be unfamiliar or unheard, especially on college campuses. They’re in classrooms and clubs, working jobs and managing finances just like their peers.
BlogDecember 1, 2022
In an op-ed written for Early Learning Nation, 2023 Ascend Parent Advisor, Mikah Jorgensen, shares her personal experience and expertise offering 5 ideas and recommendations for postsecondary institutions to make higher education more supportive of parenting students.
Media MentionsOctober 6, 2022
Today, Ascend at the Aspen Institute (Ascend) announced that 11 new Parent Advisors have joined its Postsecondary Success for Parents initiative (PSP) to help shape Ascend’s expanded agenda to improve higher education policy and practice for student parents.
Press ReleasesSeptember 29, 2022
More than half of the nearly 4 million student parents in the U.S. are students of color, with Black, Native, and Latino students among the most likely to be raising children while in college. In fact, one-third of all Black college students in the U.S. are parents. When higher education is not designed with parents …

A Leadership Imperative: Postsecondary Success for Parents Launches Its Next Phase Read More »

Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsSeptember 29, 2022
In an op-ed for Philanthropy News Digest, Ascend founder and executive director Anne Mosle highlights the power and potential in listening to and honoring the expertise of parents and caregivers.
Media MentionsAugust 22, 2022
In an article for Lumina Foundation's summer 2022 Focus magazine, Ascend's David Croom offers insight into the power of student parents' commitment to success for themselves and their families.
Media MentionsAugust 3, 2022
In an op-ed for, Félix V. Matos Rodríguez shares insights and reflections on how higher ed can make a difference for families by supporting student parents.
Media MentionsJuly 29, 2022
RFP for HBCUs and TCUs to apply for funding and technical assistance to support student parent success on their campuses One in five college students – close to 4 million – is pursuing higher education while parenting. More than half are students of color, with Black and Native students more likely to be balancing school …

Ascend’s New Family Futures Fund Focuses on Black and Native Student Parent Success Read More »

Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsJuly 20, 2022