By Dr. Queena Hoang

The Michelson 20MM Foundation and the California State University (CSU) Student Parent Network Advisory Committee were excited to kick off this year’s learning session of the “The State of Pregnant and Parenting Students in California” virtual series. Joined by Assemblymember Marc Berman and Michelson Philanthropies Co-chair Alya Michelson, the CSU Student Parent Network shared and discussed best practices for implementing AB 2881, a new law in California that requires colleges and universities to prioritize registration for student parents and provide them with the resources and support critical to their success. The webinar focused on the importance of this law in removing barriers that inhibit academic success and degree attainment for student parents at California’s community colleges, CSUs, and University of California campuses (UCs).

Assemblymember Berman discussed the challenges facing student parents and how they are more likely to experience basic needs insecurity, poverty, higher levels of unmet financial needs, and student debt. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues, bringing attention and light to the needs of student parents, which have been compounded as school and childcare interruptions placed significant new demands on their time and attention.

“The journey to and through college is challenging for many students, but it’s even more difficult for student parents as they juggle academic demands while also raising children,” said Assemblymember Marc Berman.

Not only does AB 2881 grant priority registration to student parents, it also requires establishing a student parent webpage for every campus. The web pages will increase awareness of the California earned income tax credit, the young child tax credit, and the California Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

“Higher education has historically not assumed students to be parenting students,” commented Dr. Larissa Mercado-Lopez, department chair and professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at CSU Fresno. “We see how that assumption has informed so many aspects of higher ed, from course policies or classroom policies to financial aid to class scheduling.”

The implementation of AB 2881 is a step towards ensuring that parenting students are not left behind in their pursuit of higher education. It is crucial that colleges and universities recognize the unique challenges that parenting students face and provide them with the support and resources they need to succeed. Priority registration is just one of the many resources that can make a significant difference in the academic success of parenting students.

Having priority registration for parenting students can be a life-changing experience, as it allows them to have early access to course selection, enabling them to choose courses that fit their schedule as well as their children’s schedules. Parenting students face unique challenges that can often interfere with their academic pursuits, and this new law aims to remove some of those barriers to help them achieve their academic goals.

“No student should have to choose between taking care of their family and getting their degree, and, therefore, the future that they want,” said Jessica Lee, director of the Pregnant Scholar Initiative at UC College of the Law San Francisco.

Research has shown that parenting students are at a higher risk of dropping out of college due to the additional responsibilities of caring for their children while pursuing their studies. Delaying graduation can have a significant impact on parenting students and their families. It is important to recognize the financial burden that many parenting students face as they work to balance their academic pursuits with their caregiving responsibilities. The implementation of AB 2881 and the provision of resources such as priority registration can help to mitigate some of these challenges while supporting parenting students in their academic pursuits.

“If we invest in student parents, our outcomes are going to be multifold. Parents who graduate from…[the] California public educational system, their children will ultimately benefit,” reflected Dr. Tina Cheuk, assistant professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Investing in parenting students and ensuring that they have the support and resources they need to succeed can create a ripple effect that extends beyond just the individual student. By empowering parenting students to graduate and pursue their career goals, we can improve outcomes not just for their children, but for future generations as well. We know that education is one of the most powerful tools for breaking the cycle of poverty and creating opportunities for upward mobility. By investing in parenting students, we can help to create a more equitable and just society where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. It’s heartening to see that California lawmakers are taking a long-term view and recognizing the importance of investing in the education of parenting students.

To learn more about the Pregnant and Parenting Student Initiative, please visit our webpage. We also invite you to view the recording on our YouTube channel and access additional resources mentioned during the event. 

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation seeking to accelerate progress towards a more just world through grantmaking, operating programs, and impact investing. Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

To sign up for our newsletter, click here.