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Empowering student parents, empowering our communities
By William Serrata, Ph.D.
Dec 7, 2023
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Nationally, 1 in 5 college students is a parent, and every day, student parents at El Paso Community College (EPCC) balance childcare, financial obligations, and coursework. As one of our students noted, this reality “can be overwhelming” and often impedes student parents’ progress and success.

As the landscape of higher education continues to evolve, the Texas House recently passed pro-parent, pro-family legislation requiring that state colleges collect and report data on the student parents on their campuses. With this positive step (and additional, new protections for student parents), Texas is helping to lead the way in the nation, joining Oregon and Illinois as one of only three states mandating information on their student parents – data that is critical for community colleges like EPCC that strive to serve all types of students.  

Around 45% of EPCC students (not including dual credit) are parents, and across the U.S. almost half of all student parents attend community colleges. This means that community colleges like ours are uniquely positioned to witness student parents’ challenges: juggling parenting responsibilities, financial pressures, and academic demands. We recognize their strengths: the wealth of life experiences, strong work ethic, and resilience they bring to their educational pursuits. And we are leaders in removing barriers and creating environments where student parents and their families can thrive.

In recent years, EPCC has shown exceptional innovation in our commitment to supporting student parents, ensuring they not only have access to education but also feel that they belong on campus. EPCC was just selected as a partner in Ascend at the Aspen Institute’s Postsecondary Leadership Circle Activation Fund, which will provide financial support, technical assistance, and a community of practice to expand on our progress. This investment will help our campus increase two-generation (2Gen) programming that benefits both student parents and their children, together: creating student parent resource centers, expanding our childcare partnerships, offering flexible scheduling, building supportive communities, and expanding other family-friendly initiatives.

And these important initiatives aren’t just an investment in student parents and their families – but also in the future of our communities.

When student parents feel welcome and supported on campus, they are more likely to continue their studies and achieve their educational and professional goals. They become role models for their children, illustrating the value of education and creating a college-going culture which will have a generational impact for years to come. Their success is not just a personal victory, but a victory for us all, as it builds a more educated and skilled workforce, stronger families, and greater economic stability for the entire community.

In our rapidly changing world, we must recognize that talent and potential are not confined to a specific age or life circumstance. By creating a welcoming campus that provides innovative supports for all students, EPCC is not only breaking down barriers but also fulfilling our mission to ensure an affordable, high-quality education and career pathways from start to finish. Community colleges like ours are modeling how these supports can increase student parents’ success outcomes. And we are demonstrating that when we invest in student parents, we invest in a brighter future for everyone.

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William Serrata, Ph.D.

Dr. William Serrata is a nationally recognized leader and advocate for higher education.  He is the President of El Paso Community College in El Paso, Texas, and a 2015 Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow.