Completing higher education is not an easy task for nontraditional students, especially student parents. Nontraditional students face obstacles such as being financially independent and multiple demands for their time from work and school. Along with those challenges, student parents must overcome the additional obstacles of family and childcare responsibilities. COVID-19 has made this even more difficult. As parents juggle their own work and education demands, children’s education has become a part of their family responsibilities. For student parents, employer education benefits can make it possible to complete their higher education.
About a quarter of undergraduate students in the US are parents. Of these 4.8 million students, about half are single mothers. Student parents often get financial aid such as Pell Grants: 43 percent receive Pell Grants compared to 23 percent of non-parent students. However, student parents often still have unmet financial needs. The Institute for women’s Policy Research states that, “Even after accounting for all financial aid, scholarships, family support, and income from employment, student parents have a median of $4,400 in unmet financial need—nearly $2,000 more than students without children. Single mother students are in even deeper financial straits, with $5,500 in unmet financial need.” For these students, employer tuition assistance programs can make the difference between attainment or a financial burden that is too great.
Higher education attainment for student parents is an achievement that has far-reaching effects. When parents complete their bachelor’s degree, their income rises above what they earn with a high school diploma. This added income not only brings security for students and their families, it also makes a difference in a child’s future, educational achievement or future earnings. Figures from the Aspen Institute show that a parent’s education attainment can also be a strong predictor of a child’s success.
There are several reasons that can explain this. With added income, parents can create an environment that helps their children achieve success. They can provide books, educational toys and quiet study spaces. They can give their children a healthful diet, trips, and extracurricular activities. They also set an example of persistence that can encourage their children to work for attainment, even if they experience adversity.
Employer tuition benefits are important to achieving these long-lasting effects of higher education. If single parents have unmet financial need, even with financial aid, they may not be able to overcome the financial barrier to higher education. Financial aid helps to a certain degree. If students still have unmet needs, they may take out student loans. This creates yet another burden; if student parents are unable to complete their education, they could find themselves with added debt but no degree.
Employers that support their employees with tuition assistance can provide what student parents need to cover their financial need. They can provide the financial means for student parents to enroll in courses and persevere to achieve their degree. Employer tuition assistance programs can help relieve the financial burden that comes with childcare and education expenses. All of this can creates positive outcomes. The immediate impact is the ability for student parents to continue their education, and stabilizing family income. Equally important is the long-term positive impact that employer tuition assistance creates for the children of student parents.
By Adrienne Way, Edcor owner and CEO
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