Leading the Way: Colleges Championing Access to Housing for Parents

Blog Post
A smiling mother in college holds her young child and her textbooks.
Oct. 5, 2023

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 26 percent of all undergraduate students, or 4.8 million students, are raising dependent children. Rates of basic needs insecurity are high across higher education and even higher for student parents, 70 percent of whom experienced food and/or housing insecurity in 2020 compared to 43 percent of students overall. These students’ experiences ranged from being unsheltered at any point to being unable to pay their full rent or utilities, risking unsafe living conditions or eviction.

Given the number of student parents in higher education, and given their alarmingly high rates of basic needs insecurity, institutions must prioritize strategies to make sure student parents and others experiencing housing insecurity can access support to pursue their academic goals. Some institutions have already developed strategies to address housing insecurity for student parents. Here are three examples of college programs that offer holistic support to students and their children:

Ruth Matthews Bourger Women With Children Program at Misericordia University - Dallas, Pennsylvania

This program, founded in 2000 by Sister Jean Messaros of the Sisters of Mercy, empowers economically disadvantaged single mothers by providing the opportunity to complete a college degree, creating brighter futures for themselves and for their children. Each participating family receives free housing year round for up to four years, consisting of two private bedrooms and access to a common kitchen and dining area, living room, playroom, laundry facilities, and study room. Each home is equipped with card access only entries, playground areas and a child-safe perimeter fence. The current capacity of the program is 18 families consisting of a single mother and up to three children, having added a fourth home to the program in fall 2022.

Mothers receive support through individual goal planning, academic support and tutoring, career services, on-campus counseling, parenting and informational workshops and are given priority placement for on-campus work-study opportunities and internship placements. Misericordia offers the children of mothers participating in the Women with Children program access to sports camps, summer camps, swimming lessons, a children’s garden and library, and involvement in the Kids on Campus program during the school year.

Since Women With Children was founded, forty families have graduated from the program, and every single graduate has found employment related to their field of study. Misericordia is also using their experience to lead the way in a regional pilot program based on the Women With Children initiative, Parent Pathways of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The grant-funded program offers an array of supports for a wider pool of student parents at participating colleges focused on sustainable pathways out of poverty.

Single Parent Scholar (SPS) Program at Wilson College - Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

Wilson College’s Single Parent Scholar Program supports up to twelve students annually who are pursuing a bachelor's degree full-time while raising up to two children Starting in 2020, the program began awarding grants to cover on-campus housing for all students accepted to the SPS program. While SPS scholars pay for on-campus meals, their children may eat in the campus dining hall for free. Participants are responsible for securing their own off-campus child care, but the college subsidizes child care costs using endowed resources once SPS scholars have selected a site for their children’s care. In the program residence, a class of Wilson alums funded the “Dreamers’ Den,” which offers weekly structured activities and spaces for reading, art, and play for participants’ children. Single Parent Scholars enrolled throughout the year may live in their accommodations year-round. And those who plan to leave campus for the summer but have signed a room agreement for fall can leave their belongings in their room without paying for summer housing, a crucial benefit to students, given that many students experiencing housing insecurity have no place to live or store belongings over breaks between semesters.

Access and Success Program at St. Catherine University — St. Paul, Minnesota

St. Catherine University, known as St. Kate’s, is home to the Access and Success Program, which offers holistic support to students facing housing and food security, limited access to transportation and medical care, and child care constraints. The university offers Postsecondary Child Care Grants to subsidize child care costs for eligible students and on-campus lactation rooms, as well as classes focusing on life skills and money management, child-friendly study rooms, and housing and food support. Today, the Early Childhood Center meets a vital need for quality care and education of the young children of St. Catherine University students, faculty, staff and members of the surrounding community. Many second-generation children find their way back to the Center. Social workers for the Access and Success program serve as a critical resource, helping students navigate available resources and opportunities according to their needs as they progress toward their St. Kate’s degree. Because of their work to support student parents, St. Kate’s was recently honored with the FamilyU Seal from Generation Hope

As shown above, when universities fund and advocate for programs that support their student parents, not only do they provide an opportunity for these students to graduate, but they offer their children a safe environment that contributes to their holistic development. Most importantly, a university’s commitment to such programs gives back to its community, diversifies the student body by supporting all students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and communicates that student parents are welcome in higher education.

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Postsecondary Institutions