School of Public Policy Capstones

The Academic Experiences and Childcare Arrangements of Student Mothers at a Massachusetts Community College

Anna Fung-Morley, University of Massachusetts - Amherst


This study explores the academic and childcare experiences of student mothers at a community college in Massachusetts. Student mothers (n= 40) and a comparison group of non-parent students (n=26) shared their experiences via an online survey. Interviews were also conducted with student mothers (n=4) and college administrative staff (n=4) to understand the experiences of student mothers in greater depth. Student mothers encountered a series of barriers related to childcare, time and transportation, finances, academics, and psychological well-being. They also encountered a series of supports, including professors and administrators, campus resources, community and governmental resources, and social support from family and friends. Comparing the academic experiences of student mothers with non-parent students, student mothers appear more likely to enroll part time which may allow for better grades but it also prolongs degree completion. The reverse appears true for non-parent students- they were more likely to enroll full time but received lower grades. Comparing partnered (n=29) and unpartnered (n=11) student mothers, partnered student mothers have more support from their partners and families, which in turn gives them more options and greater flexibility in terms of academic, work, and childcare-related decisions. Childcare subsidies were found to have a positive impact of student mothers' academic decisions, academic performance and academic outcomes. Based on the findings of this study, several recommendations are provided to better support student mothers, including (1) keep statistics on student parents (2) adopt a formal policy on student parents, (3) establish and maintain a student parent group, (4) create on-campus childcare options, (5) increase capacity for addressing childcare related issues experienced by student mothers, and (6) better align different governmental agencies' implementation of childcare assistance policies.