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June 15, 2022

College Promise on Expanding Promise: Depicting the Ecosystems of Support and Financial Sustainability for Student Parents

Because a uniform, national college promise model would not adequately serve the estimated 20 million students in postsecondary education, ETS and College Promise launched an effort to expand the work on College Promise programs to identify ecosystems of support for specific student populations. In 2021, we invited scholars, practitioners, and student representatives to join a design team and co-create the college promise program for their student populations. This research was recently published in a new study about programmatic strategies and supports to better serve five student populations, including student parents.

Student parents have long been a marginalized population in higher education. College students with dependent children represent 3.8 million of all college students, and a majority are single parents. 

College Promise proposed a model promise program to increase higher education access, persistence, and degree completion for students with dependent children through comprehensive support systems. This model was developed under the assumption that a baseline promise program covering tuition and fees already exists. 


High-quality care should be flexible, allowing students to increase or decrease their course loads as needed and to move from one campus or institution to another.

  • At institutions with campus child care, the Promise will include access to either a subsidized slot on campus or subsidized off-campus care, including home-based care, of their choosing.
  • For Students Using Off-Campus Care, The Promise Will Include assistance in identifying care options that fit students’ needs around scheduling, age, care type, and securing slots.

Wrap-Around Supports 

In addition to high-quality and affordable childcare, it is crucial that the promise also includes access to additional wraparound supports such as emergency aid, scholarships, and public housing for student parents. These supports can help student parents stay enrolled and eventually complete their postsecondary credentials. 

Parenting students have expressed strong dissatisfaction with the lack of programming for student parents at institutions and do not believe their university’s policies were accommodating their needs. Institutional policies and programming can include flexible course options, non-traditional business hours for support services, and mental health services.

Estimated Cost, Demand & Financing the Promise

The cost of the child care promise could be covered partly through leveraging existing federal programs that support parents’ child care needs. A patchwork of funding and service provisions, between federal, state, and institutional programs, will be necessary to fully meet student parents’ care needs.

Read the full policy brief here. 

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