Woman standing in a class room

How Can We Make Higher Education More Accessible to Student Parents?

University leadership might anecdotally know about student parents in their midst, but they aren’t addressing their unique needs.

Hidden in plain sight, students with children make up a staggering number of the collegiate student population. In fact, more than one in five college students are parents, according to the Institute of Women's Policy Research and the Aspen Institute. This means that nearly four million students nationwide are raising their children alongside the rigorous demands of academic and professional life — but such students often go unremarked by their institutions.

Institutions are not proactively identifying and understanding the needs of this population, or they don’t realize how significant it is within their overall student populations. Sure, university leadership might anecdotally know about student parents in their midst, but they aren’t addressing their unique needs — what more could we be doing to understand their needs or recognize their achievements.

Parents are a high-potential demographic group, but they face unique challenges that institutions can help them overcome. According to a Gallup poll, students with caregiving responsibilities are more likely to consider dropping out than other learners. This isn’t due to lack of effort; many student parents achieve higher grade point averages (GPAs) than their peers, with a third earning GPAs of 3.5 or higher. This metric proves that this learner group has high achievement potential — and considering that college enrollment dropped 7.5 percent from 2019 to 2022, expansion and development targeting student parents could even be an opportunity for growth in the collegiate space. 

Providing more supportive resources and experiential tracks would benefit universities financially, reputationally, and culturally. The question is, however, how should institutions go about empowering student parents? Data analytics — and, by extension, data-driven decision-making — may provide an answer.

How data analytics can help institutions retain student parents

Institutions can leverage data analytics to identify student parents and develop experiential tracks that suit their unique needs and challenges. This isn’t novel work; universities are already providing such programmatic support to populations such as first-generation students, military and veterans, and student-athletes. These factors are often captured by the institution so they can offer unique support according to the needs of these learners. 

Student parents, similarly, are a unique group that can thrive in an academic environment if given adequate aid. There’s no reason that student parents could not receive support specific to their needs; the problem lies in properly identifying this group of learners and what specific resources they need to thrive.

That’s where data analytics come in — by leveraging data-driven technology, universities can observe and correlate factors such as population size, financial needs, and key stressors with potential solutions. 

For instance, lack of access to childcare is a key reason student parents struggle to stay in school; according to an Education Trust report, a student parent would need to work an average of 52 hours a week to afford childcare on top of tuition costs. If an institution used data analytics to discover that enough students could benefit from on-site childcare, the school could launch tuition benefits or low-cost services on-campus, thereby providing the support student parents would need to attend (or afford) classes.

This statistic includes an invisible group of student parents: those who complete their schooling in online university programs. In order to support student parents, institutions must meet them where they are — those juggling children behind a screen are no exception. 28% of university students take distance learning courses exclusively, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, and there are indeed parents among them. It’s crucial for universities to invest in data analysis to identify what percentage of their online student population are parents.

Put simply: student parents, who levy tight schedules and constant demands at home and at work, would feel more empowered by their universities if they felt seen and acknowledged. Gerent’s Senior Director of Education (Retention and Student Success) Shirin Khosravian, knows this feeling well. As someone who completed her doctorate while working full-time and caring for a newborn, she highlights the importance of feeling seen, saying, “It would feel good when someone would notice my efforts and say, ‘Wow, you're a hero.’ It took this exhaustion off my shoulders for a moment.” 

However, this recognition starts with knowing more about this population; imagine if student advisors could improve student parents’ experiences by demonstrating a genuine, empathetic understanding of their challenges and needs. 

Providing critical assistance to student parents is a clear opportunity for institutions seeking to enhance the student experience, increase retention, and even expand their student populations. By leveraging data-driven decision-making, universities and colleges can recognize students with children, help them overcome challenges, and empower them to achieve their academic goals. 

Implementing Salesforce’s Student360 takes the burden off institutions

Data analytics are the linchpin to accessibility — but how can universities take advantage of data-driven decision-making without an extreme increase in overhead? Implementing a cloud-based framework like Education Cloud, Salesforce’s fundamental CRM for education provides institutions with the means to:

  • Efficiently Analyze Existing Data. Salesforce empowers institutions to make use of existing student data (e.g., information collected during applications, admissions, advisor meetings, etc.), freeing universities from slogging through large data archives.

  • Data Analytics For Student Support. Salesforce leverages big-data analytics to allow universities to identify macro trends within their student populations — and, as a result, develop a better understanding of student parents’ challenges and needs. These insights, in turn, can empower institution leaders to design and execute experiential “tracks” (i.e., like those for first-gen learners) or resources (e.g., onsite childcare) for student parents. Universities can plan areas of investment around this knowledge based on student trends.

  • Process Automation. With easy automation tools, students can be proactively sorted into distinct demographic groups and then placed on experiential tracks that align with their needs, priorities, and goals. 

Student parents are a high-potential group that universities can target to expand and innovate their campus culture by offering targeted support to specific student groups. With Salesforce, institutions can obtain a 360-degree view of their students and empower learners with children to meet — or even exceed — their academic goals.

Unlock Education Cloud’s Potential for Your University

Student360 is only one of Education Cloud’s many offerings — find out what it can do to create more efficient processes for your institution by implementing it today. Education Cloud has rapidly become a full-scale Salesforce solution for a myriad of complex problems, and educational institutions that take advantage of it can benefit from transformative technology that drives value and generates solutions.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Education Cloud can meet your needs, give us a call to speak with one of our consultants or check out our Education microsite.

About the Author

Shirin Khosravian

Senior Director of Education (Retention & Student Success), Gerent

Shirin Khosravian, DBA, is a data-driven strategy and innovation leader with over 16 years of experience in higher education transformation. As a heartfelt believer in the value of collaborative improvement, Shirin excels in forging constructive partnerships and empowering organizations to drive growth through people-process-systems strategies and solutions. During transformation initiatives, she leverages her extensive marketing, technical, customer experience, and analytical skills to develop creative, high-value solutions for clients.

green background

Ready to reinvent the future?

Get Started

More from Gerent

Follow Us