Survey of Parenting Students in New Mexico Helps Us Understand Their Needs

ReportHigher EducationJul 16 1980

Authors

Notes

Yash Morimoto, Catron Allred, and Rachel Kutcher are affiliated with Santa Fe Community College.

Nearly one in five undergraduate students in the United States is caring for dependent children. Data show that investing in the academic success of these 3.1 million students will pay lifelong dividends for these individuals and their states and could help higher education institutions meet enrollment and retention goals in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.[i] Recent analyses illustrate that investing in student parents’ success in college pays dividends for their own economic futures—and the fiscal and economic health of the state.

Supporting student parents through higher education is crucial for promoting economic mobility. In New Mexico, single mothers who graduate with an associate degree earn $366,614 more over their lifetimes, save New Mexico $26,842 in public benefits spending, and contribute $105,138 more in taxes, all relative to those who are high school graduates. Results are even more striking when single mothers graduate with bachelor’s degrees. Further, research from Virginia has indicated that each dollar invested in student-parent support programs can yield up to $5.36 in increased tax revenue and public benefits savings.

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New Mexico has become a leader in supporting families with two-generation policies—that is, policies that support parents and children. The New Mexico College Student Experience study was designed to provide higher education administrators and policymakers with essential data to better support parents who are students. We administered the New Mexico College Student Experience Survey to more than 3,000 students—including more than 1,000 pregnant or parenting students with children under age 18—across nine higher education institutions in New Mexico during the 2024 spring semester.

The results of our survey, presented in this report, provide an illustration of student parents in New Mexico and point to policy and practice reforms that may better support this important group of students. Within the report, we first provide background on the survey itself within the context of recent developments in the state’s higher education and child care policies. Next, we review detailed findings from the survey, including demographic characteristics of parenting students in New Mexico, their educational goals, the challenges they face, their child care needs, and the educational supports and services they desire. We conclude with a discussion of these findings and their implications, and with a set of policy recommendations based on the findings. A methodology appendix follows the conclusion of the report.


Key findings

Student parents struggle to meet demands on their time as they care for multiple children and maintain intensive work schedules in addition to their academic responsibilities.

  • One in three (33%) respondents to the survey identify as a parent or parent-to-be to a child under age 18.
  • Parenting students often enroll part-time to balance academics, child care, and work—with the largest segment taking 6-11 credit hours, compared to non-parenting students who predominantly enroll full-time (12+ credits).
  • Fifty-eight percent of parenting students work at least 30 hours a week, compared to 40 percent of non-parenting students.
  • Fifty-four percent of student parents have more than one child under age 18.

To manage conflicting responsibilities, student parents show a strong preference for flexible courses with at least some online component (40% prefer online asynchronous, 25% prefer hybrid, and 8% prefer online synchronous).

Student parents’ child care needs are not currently being met.

  • Just 40 percent of student parents with children under age 13 indicated that their current child care arrangements cover all the hours for which they need care.
  • Thirty-three percent of parenting students have no formal child care; another 33 percent rely on unpaid relatives or friends.
  • Meanwhile, 30 percent of student parents prefer child care centers or preschools, 27 percent prefer unpaid family or friend care, 22 percent prefer on-campus child care, and 19 percent prefer drop-in child care options.
  • The gap between student parents’ current care arrangements and their preferences highlights the need for diverse child care solutions to improve retention and completion rates.

Many student parents would benefit from essential support services, including those tailored to parents.

  • Insecurities related to basic needs are commonplace among student parents: 47 percent struggle with daily expenses, 60 percent worry about school costs, and 54 percent worry about running out of food.
  • Sixty-two percent of student parents are first-generation college students and may benefit from targeted support programs like mentoring and advising.
  • Mental health needs for these students are high: 45 percent of parenting students report poor or fair mental health, 44 percent screen for anxiety, and 28 percent screen for depression, emphasizing the need for accessible mental health services.

Student parents’ desired supports and services reflect the need for flexible, supportive services on campus, including free family/children’s activities and events (60%), family-friendly study spaces (57%), family-friendly tutoring (46%), outdoor play spaces (44%), drop-in on-campus child care (40%), and online tutoring (40%).

Despite everything on their plates, student parents remain motivated in school to achieve their economic and personal goals.

  • Eighty-five percent of parenting students are pursuing a degree or certificate.
  • Sixty-four percent of parenting students return to higher education to increase their earnings potential and 64 percent are motivated to return to inspire their children.
  • Effective support can improve individual outcomes and contribute positively to the community, strengthening the workforce and promoting social mobility.

Policy recommendations

This study points to four overarching areas of opportunity for New Mexico’s higher education administrators and policymakers to consider in order to help their parenting students graduate and improve their state’s long-term fiscal picture. In addition, since almost one in five undergraduates across the United States is a parent, these recommendations could be beneficial in other states as well.

  1. Create flexible learning environments. As parenting students strive to complete degrees and certificates while balancing academic responsibilities with work and family responsibilities, institutions can accommodate their complex lives by offering flexible learning environments, including shortened academic terms, online learning options, and flexible classroom policies.
  2. Offer comprehensive support services. Colleges and universities can help student parents meet their basic needs—including financial security and mental health—so they can focus on their academic pursuits. Relevant supports for student parents include support meeting basic needs, first-generation student supports, counseling and mental health services, and career and financial planning.
  3. Create family-friendly campuses with child care services. Institutions can work to create family-friendly campus climates that celebrate student parents’ identities as parents by investing in family-friendly initiatives, child care services, and student parent peer-mentoring programs.
  4. Enhance data collection. Colleges and universities are better positioned to support students when they are equipped with data that identifies these students as parents. Data collection efforts can help colleges identify student parents, share services with them, and track the impact of supportive initiatives.
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The policy and practice recommendations outlined above are not only salient strategies for parenting students, but also for serving other significant student populations, including first-generation students and working adults, in addition to “traditional” students. Implementing these strategies provides multiple entry points for supporting student parents while also benefiting a diverse range of other students on campus. This holistic approach not only benefits students and their families but also strengthens the campus and community’s broader social and economic fabric by fostering a more educated and skilled workforce. Ultimately, these efforts contribute to the creation of vibrant, thriving communities, driven by the success and mobility of their members.

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Footnote

[i] Authors’ analysis of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 2020 Undergraduate Students using DataLab.

Suggested citation

Ryberg, R., Rust, K., Balén, Z., Morimoto, Y., Allred, C., & Kutcher, R. (2024). Survey of Parenting Students in New Mexico Helps Us Understand Their Needs. Child Trends. DOI: 10.56417/9938y9431c

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