Achieving the Dream Announces Research Agenda for Community College Women Succeed Initiative

SILVER SPRING, MD—Achieving the Dream’s Community College Women Succeed advisory group, comprising leaders from 12 organizations working to increase racial and economic equity for community college students and their families, today announced the release of its first research agenda designed to better understand student parents, increase equitable student success, and provide data to help colleges. More than half of community college students are women, and among them, one-third are mothers, 60 percent of whom are single parents. Understanding their unique experience is at the center of helping colleges and organizations increase equitable access, completion, and labor market outcomes for women students and student parents in community college. 

“During the pandemic, we have seen significant declining enrollment across all of our students, but it has been particularly acute among student parents. Even before the pandemic, student parents were already living in or near poverty, facing insecurity in meeting basic needs, and  more likely to be working than students without children,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, President and CEO of Achieving the Dream. “Understanding student parents’ unique and layered identities make finding and understanding the data and investigations outlined in the research agenda all the more urgent. Student parents must be part of our student success agendas that center on equity and meet our student parents where they are.”

The research agenda is designed to do just that: further understand the student parent experience – who they are, where they have enrolled in school, what supports are needed, and their academic and economic outcomes and objectives – at the national, state, institutional, and community level to design a higher education system capable of closing equity gaps, setting all students up for success.  

"This research agenda is intended to inform and inspire new research on the experiences of women and mothers in community college and the levers can promote their success in college and the workforce,” said Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, the Managing Director of the Student Parent Success Initiative at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and advisory group member. “We are especially interested in encouraging research that applies an intersectional and racial equity lens to expose gaps in the U.S. higher education system, propose strategies for addressing equity gaps, and informing the design of equitable pathways that will benefit all women."

The research agenda aims to provide further research and information on what the advisory group has determined are the most crucial data points for understanding student parents in community colleges. These include gathering more data on who these students are, labor market outcomes, recruitment and enrollment practices, student success strategies, financing education, understanding the experiences of children and community college women, and experiences during the pandemic.

"An intersectional approach to better understanding women’s experiences in community college and their trajectories into the labor market is so needed to center equity in policy and practice,” said Ivy Love, Senior Policy Analyst, Center on Education & Labor and advisory group member. “This research agenda is full of questions that need answers and merit investment and attention."

The learnings gleaned from this research are intended to guide new areas of inquiry as the higher education landscape of data, policy, and practice evolves. Specifically, the agenda intends to guide advisory members’ research questions and considerations for funded research and be utilized by graduate students and community college practitioners to build knowledge in this field.  

“We hope that the philanthropic, private and public sectors join us in supporting this research to better understand student parents and their specific needs,” said Rosa Maria Castaneda, a senior associate with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “We know that student parents have big dreams and aspirations but many face barriers that keep them from thriving. This research can help us to identify and eliminate those obstacles.”

See the full research agenda here.

Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of more than 300 community colleges committed to helping their students, particularly low-income students and students of color, achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth, and economic opportunity. ATD is making progress in closing equity gaps and accelerating student success through a unique change process that builds each college’s institutional capacities in seven essential areas. ATD, along with nearly 75 experienced coaches and advisors, works closely with Network colleges in 45 states and the District of Columbia to reach more than 4 million community college students. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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