We have conducted a survey of Trinity students to learn more about how many are also caring for children or have other family responsibilities. 165 students participated in the survey, arrayed by school as the graphic above illustrates. [For readers not familiar with the acronyms: (CAS) College of Arts & Sciences, (NHP) School of Nursing and Health Professions, (SPS) School of Professional Studies, (EDU) School of Education, (BGS) School of Business and Graduate Studies. Note that CAS is full-time daytime undergraduate women. Also, the units SPS/BGS/EDU are clustered now into the coed School of Professional and Graduate Studies and these programs serve students who are largely working professionals attending part-time.]
We know that these kinds of responsibilities pose large issues for time management, financial stress, and the kinds of services and policies that Trinity might develop to be more supportive.
This survey occurs in tandem with the release of a new toolkit Generation Hope_20.21 Higher Ed Toolkit for Supporting Student Parents from our great partner Generation Hope on how to support student parents in college along with a recent Generation Hope report discussing results of a national survey of student parents.
Below are the survey results. Your comments are welcome in the comments section, or send me your thoughts on email firstname.lastname@example.org
Q2: How many children do you have?
The graphics above include all student responses (left) and the responses of CAS students (right). We are breaking CAS out throughout this analysis because those are full-time undergraduates whose ages tend to be younger (18-25 generally) than students in the professional units.
As the graphs illustrate, for all students responding, about half (50%) have one or more children. Among CAS students responding, about 30% report having children.
The age range of the children is from newborn to late 20’s, but most clustered in younger ages into teens.
Several respondents noted that they are pregnant and expecting another child within the next few months. We urge those students to be in touch with Health Services to be sure they are getting good care, and also to speak with their academic advisors to be sure they have a good plan for academic support.
Q3: What other family responsibilities do you have?
For all respondents and also for CAS students, the top family responsibility is contributing money to support the family. Caring for siblings is a very large part of the responsibility that CAS students have, along with caring for elders. CAS students are less likely to have a partner to share responsibilities and also less likely to be the heads of their households.
Our students have an extraordinary range of family responsibilities, and a great deal of stress that accompanies those duties and financial worries. A small sample of the many comments:
A CAS student writes: “I am coming from [another state]. Due to my husband’s job, my family couldn’t move with me to DC. My mother is taking care of my child while my husband works. Although I am a little far from home, in a way I feel financially responsible. I try not to spend too much money because my baby still has many needs such as diapers.”
An NHP student writes: “I live with my wife, my mom and 3 kids. I have a very busy schedule making sure the kids are taken care of , which range from bathing, feeding, outdoor plays and school runs. I also make sure the rents are paid and the groceries are stocked. Its been quite challenging having to balance this out and at the same time going through nursing school.”
An SPS student writes: “I am a single mother trying to juggle college (having to write a 25 page paper for senior seminar, a 11 page paper for a 200 level class which is insane to me) , work, homeschooling my 8 year and chasing a busy 1 year old around. All while trying to keep my household in order!”
Q4: Please rate your experience with Trinity’s support for your family responsibilities:
Of all the questions we asked in the survey, this one provides the most critical information and challenges Trinity to think harder and more expansively about how we provide services and support for students with children and family responsibilities. There was virtually no difference in the response pattern for CAS students so we are just presenting all responses here.
Before providing some of the sample comments, here are some of the most critical issues:
- 52% of student respondents “Strongly agree” or “Agree” that they do not talk to their teachers about their children or family responsibilities. This is consistent with data that Generation Hope found in their national study, and it indicates a very large issue we need to address. Whether students are afraid or feel that they will be penalized or that the faculty may not care —- all of which are valid feelings even if the faculty might disagree that they would respond that way — we need to work on creating a culture of open communication and helpful responses that can provide real assistance to students with family duties.
- 68% of students responding “Strongly agree” or “Agree” that Trinity should do more to support students with family responsibilities. Some of their recommendations are in the comments but this is a topic that we should pursue in a formal way throughout this semester in order to come up with some progressive, truly helpful solutions.
- 58% of students responding “Strongly agree” or “Agree” that Trinity should provide child care on campus. This has been one of the most difficult problems with elusive solutions I’ve tried to address for a long time. Child care in D.C. is heavily regulated and very expensive to provide. We have tried to find a professional child care agency to set up shop on campus, but all we have approached would require Trinity to invest in a very expensive build-out of facilities to meet D.C. requirements. I am very interested in trying again to find a way to solve this issue, and welcome ideas on partnerships that could be a good solution.
- Some of the comments indicate a sense that Trinity’s policies are hostile to children. While we disagree with that interpretation (the Policy on Children on Campus is designed to protect children from harm), we also know that perception matters. We will work with our student parents this year to examine the policy and practices to find better ways to express the need for child protection while also relieving some of the apparent rigidity in the application of the policy.
- 73% of students responding “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” that they need more financial help with family responsibilities One of the commenters mentioned how helpful the CARES Act money was last spring. We are skeptical that Congress will reach agreement on another relief bill anytime soon. However, we do continue to have emergency grants available and students should apply here to receive an emergency grant. We also provide food assistance (click on that link to learn more) and we have a Chromebook program for students who need laptops.
A sample of the many comments to this question:
A student in SPS writes: “I think this should include children of all ages, not just children under 12 years of age. Some of us are first generation graduates and our children need to part of this journey. I believe our children on campus with us will give them a better understanding of the importance of education. It will also, give us a since of pride and not guilt for fear of neglect. I feel the experience will encourage them to go straight through, if afforded the opportunity. Let the role model for our children be someone tangible, us.”
A student in NHP writes: “A lot of us are wanting to go to school to get a better jump on life, but it is hard when you don’t know what you’re going to do with your kids. Or even how to take care of your family. I think providing some type of help with childcare.”
Another NHP student writes: “Some professor do not seem to care or understand what juggling home/ school/ work is like. Some are not approachable and when you see their response to your peers it discourages you from wanting to reach out. Trying to focus on school assignments at home with others around is proving to be a challenge with all the distractions that accompanies it.”
A CAS student writes: “I actually reached out to my professors before the semester started and I let them all know what was going on with my grandma, and every professor was kind, supportive, and understanding. Since I have been watching grandma and now I am back at school, it has been hard to find financial support.”
A BGS student writes: “I would love help with elder care services (i.e. i would like to be connected with resources/orgs to do in-person help with doing elderly people’s taxes, and explanations of how they should select Obamacare/healthcare). I would also appreciate free childcare while in class or studying/writing papers while on campus.”
Q5: If you have children, please tell us more…
Putting the CAS responses side-by-side with all responses, we note some critically important issues:
- ZERO CAS students said, “I am able to care for my children financially without other assistance” while a very small percentage — 13.64% — of all respondents said the same. This is more evidence of the financial stress that our students who are parents experience.
- By contrast, 37% of CAS students and 42% of all state that they are a single parent caring for children alone. The comparison of these first two data points — the need for financial assistance, being a single parent — heightens the focus on the support needs for our students.
- 30% of responding CAS student parents work full-time while 57% of all respondents say they work full-time; important to note that CAS students are also full-time students, so the combination of work, child care and a full-time course load is a considerable challenge — on top of the financial issues.
Q6: Tell us about the school situation this semester:
In the pandemic era, Trinity students with children are doing double-and-triple duty as parent, home school teachers and supervisors, workers often also on their computers while the kids are on theirs, and being Trinity students as well. It’s a lot to manage! Key elements of the graphs above:
- All student parents say that they have a hard time balancing all of their many responsibilities — the data supports what we hear all the time informally, and it raises the issue of how we respond in policy and practice to be compassionate and helpful while also trying to stay on track academically.
- CAS students respondents report greater concern about the state of technology at home (27% of CAS respondents have a concern about this versus 10% of all respondents) and they also express greater concern about their ability to help their children with online classes.
- All students responding give high marks to the idea of getting some help with supervising their children’s online lessons.
Some of the key comments:
A CAS student writes: “My child is only 19-months but it is the age of a lot of learning. It would be good to have assistance to know what to teach toddlers.”
An NHP student writes: “My child is solely online until at least November, as he’s part of DCPS. At this age, it’s a lot and you have to be active in their learning process. I feel like while I’m desperately trying to be proactive and plan and get ahead in my own curriculum, there is very little understanding from the faculty and I just get told repeatedly to be flexible. While there is no flexibility on the other end.”
An SPS student writes: “I have no clue how to help my children with home schooling. I feel like they need tutoring because when I try to help someone ends up in tears.”
An EDU student writes: “I think in this season our professors need to know that we often have to work at night because during the day we are working and supporting our kids and providing three meals a day. There are no boundaries. My kids come to my office door with questions they don’t understand or see me outside of the house when I am working. When the school day ends, they need to socialize, watch TV, students, etc and it can be hard to find the space to pull away to get out own work done. It feels like life is all jammed together. I am a grad student and one of my professors has designed a syllabus and work delivery plan that is very hard to manage. It is unlike any of the graduate classes I have taken and her availability is limited. Not family or woman-friendly in my opinion. I say that because we are aware of the demands that the household can put on women separate from men. But I want to graduate so I just try to press through and not complain.”
A CAS student writes: “I have a child in Pre-3, two children in elementary school, one child in middle school and one in high school. It is a struggle sometimes when we are all trying to do our school work and succeed with our classes. Financial help could really help because I have to buy extra things that they need for school.”
And this EDU student speaks for many: “PRAY for my continued STRENGTH.”
The last question:
Q7: What else would you like us to know about your children and family responsibilities and your ideas about how Trinity can provide more services to you?
Lots of good ideas here, the sample comments include:
A BGS student writes: “I think Trinity is a place where innovation abounds and I can’t wait to see what comes out of all these surveys! My kids will always come first and while I never expected my life to look like this, I have options and I am grateful for that. We have food, shelter, and each other so we are okay. I want Trinity to continue to excel at taking care of its individual members, be that staff, student or educator. Thank you and stay safe out there :)”
An NHP student writes: “I would like to be able to come to campus some days. I feel that I am more focused and productive when I am not in the house. Of course with following the guidelines set in place to keep everyone safe, but just to have that flexibility to be on campus would make such a difference for me.” [Note: Yes, you may come to campus, the Library is open, and Main Hall and the Payden Center, and you are welcome to come and use wifi and quiet study spaces here…. just follow our Essential Expectations!]
An SPS student writes: “I appreciate all that Trinity does, and honestly I’m happy that classes are online so that I can tend to caring for my family, while obtaining my degree.”
A CAS student writes: “Have more time to learn more stuff about students. Provide examples of how to deal with stress and anxiety and be open to hear about students concerns.”
We’ll be updating this report as more responses come in! If you have not yet taken the survey and would like to do so, you can do it by clicking on Students with Children and Family Responsibilities. We still want to hear from you!
Thanks to all who contributed so many thoughtful answers. More to come as we set up discussions through this semester to provide more support for students with children and family responsibilities.