A new $75,000 grant will help support student parents of Long Beach City College over the next two years, the school announced earlier this month.
Next year, the fund will first support the launch of a virtual resource center in the form of an online portal, but the end goal is to establish a permanent family resource center on campus.
“What we’re trying to do is develop a climate to enhance the sense of belonging for student parents, increase the participation and enrollment for student parents—just basically let them know that they belong,” said Christina Barrios, assistant director of CalWORKs at LBCC.
The grant, from Ascend at the Aspen Institute’s Postsecondary Leadership Circle Activation Fund, will provide financial support and expert technical assistance for the new resource center. But that space is a long-term goal in its preliminary planning stages, with no timeline for its completion currently.
Community colleges are uniquely equipped to improve outcomes for student parents. Almost half of all U.S. student parents attend community college, and 70% of these parents are mothers, according to the college.
Nationally, one in five college students—close to 4 million—is a parent, according to the college. And some 2,000 student parents attend LBCC, although Barrios noted that number is based on data from when students first apply to the college, so the number is likely higher.
Statistically, it takes longer for student parents to reach their goals—whether that’s transferring to a university or earning a degree. However, Barrios noted that they do have a higher success rate, meaning their GPA tends to be higher than their childless peers, Barrios said.
While the first step will be to build the virtual resource center, LBCC’s task force is currently working with college leadership to identify potential temporary locations for its physical center.
According to Barrios, accessing affordable child care is typically the largest barrier these students face.
Although a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club allows LBCC students with children over the age of 5 to receive free child care, and a development center on campus provides subsidized child care for children under 5—students who have younger children still face significant challenges, Barrios said.
Housing is also an obstacle for many student parents. While the Basic Needs Program at LBCC works to connect students in need to temporary and permanent housing, many housing options are geared toward students who are 18 to 24 and without any dependents, Barrios said.
“It’s very challenging to find placements for the whole family,” Barrios said. “It’s really a specialized area. It’s a lot of just trying to compile and develop these resources.”
Many student parents also struggle with a sense of belonging, Barrios said.
Due to time constraints and additional responsibilities, many are unable to participate in clubs or other activities that would make them feel more included, she said.
The hope is to bridge this gap by increasing the awareness of resources, informing student parents about their rights and protections and helping connect them to one another.
“We want to ensure students and their children feel welcomed on campus,” she said.
Part of this will be accomplished by hosting child-friendly events, intended to expose children to higher education, Barrios said.
“We’re really trying to embrace the culture of allowing the students to bring their children to campus or have events that do include children,” Barrios said. “I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job of trying to create that culture.”
Los Angeles Valley College, El Paso Community College in Texas and Montgomery College in Maryland also received the grant from the Aspen Institute. Each school was instructed to work together to identify what is working best and where gaps remain, Barrios said.
Grant directors from the four colleges kicked off monthly meetings in September. A task force at LBCC of campus staff, faculty and current and former student parents, will also meet each month.
Barrios hopes to move into a focus group stage early next year.
“Our goal is by next year to really just start getting to work and putting these ideas into practice,” Barrios said.