Nontraditional = New Normal
The image of the young, carefree, and untethered college student has been the norm for decades. Increasingly, however, reality looks very different. University lecture halls are filling up with older nontraditional students. These students bring with them job experience, adult financial responsibilities, and, in many cases, children. As part of her promise to make college more accessible to a wider variety of people if elected, Hillary Clinton has outlined a plan to aid student parents.
"It makes such a huge difference in being able to focus on your studies and feeling like you're still being a good parent." —Bonnie Cherry, student parent
The Democratic front-runner would like to see more child-care centers at schools. Supporting student parents is a savvy move on her part, because this particular pool of voters is growing. As a recent report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research notes, a quarter of today's undergraduate students—4.8 million—have children and more than four-in-10 are single parents. The number of student parents has grown by more than 1.6 million since 1995.
And yet the percentage of public two-year and four-year colleges offering child care has actually declined, from 53 percent in 2003 to 46 percent in 2013, while federal funding has remained relatively constant at about $15 million.
That's "woefully low based on the need," according to Lindsey Reichlin, a research associate with IWPR who has studied the issue.
Worse Impact on WoC
These student parents are more likely to be women of color, to be low-income, and to be first-generation college students. Child care often presents an insurmountable barrier for these would-be students.
According to IWPR, low-income families on average spend 40 percent of their monthly income on child care, which costs between $5,000 and $16,000 depending on the state. Most families who are eligible for child-care subsidies don't get them, and many states impose restrictions on access to aid for student parents.
Aliea Hughes, now 25, knows this all too well.
A teen mom, Hughes entered Rutgers University in 2008 hoping to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. But finding child care proved to be a challenging task.
The campus care center wanted $1,100 a month, she said, and it had a two-year wait list. So instead, Hughes, who didn't drive, ended up walking her toddler, Andrew, along a highway to drop him at a center across town when it opened at 8:00 in the morning. Then, she raced to catch a bus to try to make her first class at 8:20, a schedule she said the school had set for her.
"I failed every class my first semester," she said.
While child care wasn't the only issue, Hughes says, it was the "biggest" obstacle.
"I think I would have been good at [engineering]," she added, "but being a mom, I didn't have the time to dedicate to that field."