On September 15, 2021, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution declaring September National parenting student Month. As a person who both was a parenting student, and has worked to advocate for other parenting students throughout my education and career, after many long years of simply trying to be seen and acknowledged, this federal recognition felt like an important victory. While it didn't direct resources to parenting students, nor change laws or policies to better protect and ensure our equitable access to higher education, it showed acknowledgment and solidarity both for the fact both that we exist, and that we are significant: one in five undergraduate students, and one in three graduate students, is parenting during their studies.
In the parenting student world, this was a moment for both celebration and frustration: many of us work in small offices, or even departments of one, and our day-to-day work centers around supporting parenting students. This is busy, ongoing, and critical work. Helping parenting students address their needs and overcome their challenges and crises takes priority over day-to-day work. Between helping students succeed academically, helping them navigate systems to find child care and meet their basic needs, and helping strategize crises, we are very busy people!
Celebrations and special events take months to plan, and with National parenting student Month being declared half-way through September, many of those celebrating this monumental recognition, were left with no time to plan, organize, and implement a celebration.
Instead of seeing September 30 as a deadline for celebrating the hard and diligent work of parenting students and their allies, we should view the close of National parenting student Month as a catalyst towards the change that is on the horizon.
While I no longer work directly in a parenting student program on my campus, I've been busy supporting parenting students through research, program support, curriculum development, and advocating for policy and systems change, I can admit that, like a lot of my colleagues in the parenting student world, I wasn't ready for a sudden two-week deadline.
So to my friends in the parenting student world, I have a proposal. Instead of seeing September 30 as a deadline for celebrating the hard and diligent work of parenting students and their allies, we should view the close of National parenting student Month as a catalyst towards the change that is on the horizon. Let’s use this as a call to action through which we will work to expand college access, inclusion, and success for parenting students and their families between now and the second National parenting student Month in 2022.
This is a moment to celebrate and showcase the collective work that we are already doing to support parenting students, and to consider what it would take to be able to do our work even better. It's also a call for advocating for policy and systems change, envisioning a nation where every person—regardless of their background, age, race/ethnicity, income, gender, marital, and/or parenting/caregiving status—is offered an equitable opportunity to complete a college degree.
At the Higher Education Access for Parenting Students Research Initiative, we have been busy working to advance parenting student success across the landscape of U.S. higher education. Here are a few highlights of our work from the past year, and some previews of what you’ll see from us in the coming year:
We work to engage and elevate the expertise, leadership, and contributions of current and former parenting students in meaningful ways that counter tokenism and affirm experiential expertise.
In all of these efforts, we believe it is critical that parenting student voices and expertise are centered, supporting their efforts as emerging leaders and experts in higher education, social science research, policy, and advocacy. We work to engage and elevate the expertise, leadership, and contributions of current and former parenting students in meaningful ways that counter tokenism and affirm experiential expertise. parenting students’ perspectives are critical to understanding the challenges that parenting students face in college today and determining how to build systems to create a more inclusive and equitable future for parenting students and their families.
All of our projects work to engage parenting students as meaningful contributors to our shared work. We engage with parenting students, interdisciplinary experts who were parenting students during their studies, and self-identified parenting student allies as knowledge and research partners, collaborating with them to engage in the processes of informing and shaping social change. We practice family friendliness and flexibility in every aspect of our work, creating inclusive, welcoming, supportive, and safe spaces to be both parents and students/professionals, recognizing the brilliance, strength, and contributions of all of our partners in this work.
In the coming year, we hope to inspire and advance the quest for equitable access to education for all: including students with kids. Our projects focus on informing and shaping policy, systems, and structural changes that are necessary to achieving this goal across the U.S., while exploring and testing new approaches and models in partnership with post-secondary institutions and communities, who are working locally toward this shared goal.
For us, National parenting student Month is a symbol of recognition with the power to ignite and accelerate this shared mission. It serves as a checkpoint at which we can stop and reflect on all that we have accomplished and all that we still have yet to do. It is our hope that the time between now and September 2022 will be a year of collaboration, partnership, and movement building across the fields of higher education, economic mobility, and thriving communities, so that next September, we can look back on the year and see just how far we have come.
Autumn Green, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women studying higher education access for parenting students. Dr. Green is nationally recognized for her scholarship on the lives of parenting students and has worked to create two-generation programs on college and university campuses.