The Education Trust—West joined us to kick off The State of Pregnant and Parenting Students to discuss how the California State Universities (CSUs) are improving data collection concerning pregnant and parenting students. During the conversation, the team previewed the report from the California Student Parent Data Collection Landscape Analysis Project, an effort that aims to inform the field about how data on this student population is collected, where it lives, how it can be improved, and how it can inform policy changes in support of pregnant and parenting students.
In his opening remarks, Christopher Nellum, The Education Trust—West’s executive director, reminded us that when we talk about student parent data, we’re talking about people: “mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and dependents… We’re talking about their dreams, their aspirations, their talent, [and] their pathways to opportunities.” Data helps us understand who pregnant and parenting students are, the unique strengths they bring, and how they can be served by higher educational campuses.
“Parenting students often face higher financial burdens compared to their peers, as well as time valued priorities as they juggle caring for their children’s school and often work.”
Following the Hear My Voice report, The Education Trust—West found that inadequate data was a major roadblock to identifying how to support pregnant and parenting students because it prevents campuses from thoroughly understanding their needs. Demonstrating the lack of detailed data, Isaac Alferos, The Education Trust—West’s research and data analyst, shared what we do know: “Parenting students…are more likely than nonparents to be low income people of color women and first generation students… Parenting students often face higher financial burdens compared to their peers, as well as time valued priorities as they juggle caring for their children’s school and often work…On average, the parenting students earn higher grades than non parenting students, but stop out of school at higher rates.” With those facts in mind, Alferos underscored how the national figures do not help us understand the people behind the numbers, nor do they help us understand their experiences in detail. More specifically, The Education Trust—West identified 12 questions the answers to which we don’t know:
- Who are our parenting students?
- What interesting identities do they hold?
- What brought them to the institution?
- Where are our parenting students? (campus and regionally)
- What are their academic pathways?
- What financial aid are they receiving?
- What institutional supports are needed?
- Do they have familial (chosen or otherwise) support?
- Do they know of helpful campus services? Are they accessing those services?
- Do they have supportive staff and faculty around them?
- Are they involved on campus?
- Do they feel welcome and at home on campus?
As Alferos mentioned, the reason data collection is important is because it serves as a flashlight “to illuminate who the students are, what their needs are, and what their experiences look like…. It doesn’t help us improve outcomes if we continue to remain in the dark about all the incredible assets and strengths that parenting students bring to our schools or the barriers that they face.” In addition to answering the questions above, The Education Trust—West wanted to understand what data is currently being collected, how it is being collected, where the data is stored, as well as how it is accessed and by whom.
In response to the data collection, The Education Trust—West received responses from 11 out of 23 campuses. Six of 11 reported collecting data on parenting students. The data collected revealed areas for growth, such as a lack of information regarding the certificate earned, access to Title IX services, and more. In fact, only two of the 11 campuses reported feeling “that their administration uses the data to support student parents.” That is problematic because, as Alferos highlighted, “If we’re asking folks to share information, especially parenting students to share vulnerable information about themselves, it is critically important that student parents feel that that data is being used, and that data is being used to then transform the policies on a campus.”
“It doesn’t help us improve outcomes if we continue to remain in the dark about all the incredible assets and strengths that parenting students bring to our schools or the barriers that they face.”
A prevalent issue on campuses is the absence of disaggregated data. Without disaggregated data, the information is not as impactful as it could be because it fails to separate experiences, background, and other factors that contribute to the student parent life. As a result, we cannot identify what supports are needed and how existing supports serve or fail to serve students’ needs.
In addition to disaggregated data, Denise Luna, The Education Trust—West’s Associate Director of Higher Education Policy, emphasized the utility in collecting data on the number of dependents and their ages because that influences the resources campuses can provide. As an example, she lauded California Polytechnic State University’s online intake form, which allows parents to voluntarily share information about themselves and their dependents.
On a broader scale, The Education Trust—West team called upon policymakers to establish a statewide data definition and collection for parenting students. Similarly, the CSU Chancellor’s Office can coordinate across campuses to share best practices, guidance, and a system specifically designed to support pregnant and parenting students, Luna shared.
As we eagerly await the full report in February, we look forward to seeing more campuses intentionally gather the data needed to understand the experiences of pregnant and parenting students.
Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation working toward equity for underserved and historically underrepresented communities by expanding access to educational and employment opportunities, increasing affordability of educational programs, and ensuring the necessary supports are in place for individuals to thrive. To do so, we work in the following verticals: Digital Equity, Intellectual Property, Smart Justice, Student Basic Needs, and Open Educational Resources (OER). Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.
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