Black Student Parents Are Struggling to Make Ends Meet

Recent findings from The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University reveal parenting students are struggling. One in four Black student fathers have experienced homelessness within the last 12 months.

Father working from home while holding toddler daughter
Photo: Getty Image

For many college students , pursuing a college education comes with challenges. But for those who are parents, too, paying for school and finding time to study while raising children might feel all but impossible. And a recent study of 32,560 students says Black and Latinx students are more likely to be parents, struggling to afford necessities, while in school.

The study was conducted by The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University, and paints a crystal-clear vision of the vulnerabilities faced by Black and Latinx families in pursuit of a higher education.

First, all parenting students face "extremely high rates of basic needs insecurity" but Latinx and Black students with young children face unique struggles. Eighty-five to 90 percent of them struggle to fulfill their families' basic needs.

As a result, many of these parents say they experienced food insecurity and about one in four of them say they cut down on meal size or skip meals altogether to cope. The pandemic made things more challenging—36 percent of all single Black parenting students with young children—and two in five Black fathers—experienced reduction in hours or pay.

In fact, Black student fathers are in a particularly difficult spot. Not only do they experience the same significant levels of struggle, but they rarely get the support, or attention, they'd need to fill these needs. And, among the 34 percent of fathers that do seek out support, only about half receive it when they ask. Within the last 12 months, nearly one in four Black fathers have experienced homelessness.

"These numbers are atrocious: among single Black and Latinx parenting students with young children, nearly ALL are experiencing basic needs insecurity," wrote Lauren Bohn, a journalist and senior director of strategic communications and marketing at The Hope Center, on Twitter. "Students shouldn't have to be so damn resilient. Colleges and policy makers must—and can—do better."

Thankfully, there is some good news. As an action research center, The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice aims to transform higher education into a more effective, equitable, and impactful sector, proclaiming students must have their basic needs filled to be effective in school.

The study also optimistically notes that students parenting might be slightly more motivated to complete their education than non-parenting students when all things are equal. "Parenting students show very strong commitments to education and excel at higher rates than other students when placed on a level playing field," according to the study. "The economic and social returns on their education are particularly strong, accruing across generations."

Yet to achieve their full potential, parents of color who are in school, especially Black fathers, need support from policy makers and institutional leaders who are willing to expand access to the emergency aid offered during the pandemic and identify parenting students to be sure they have access to the housing, childcare, and financial resources they need, among other things. They say policy makers should prioritize parenting students for receipt of federal child care funding and treat the pursuit of a postsecondary credential as meeting any work requirements for public benefits programs.

For determined student parents who struggle to make ends meet, financial security is the key to a successful future for them and their children.

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