By Mo Juenger, Editor-in-Chief
As of 2017, one in every 15 Xavier students was also a parent. The national percentage of student parents has been on the rise since 2019, now at almost 22% of all undergraduate students.
As the national student parent population grows, Dr. Kristen Renzi, chair of the Department of Gender and Diversity Studies, knows this topic is often tricky for institutions to address.
“One of the arguments that’s repeatedly given is, ‘Well, this is just a faculty and staff issue; it’s not something that’s important to students,’” Renzi said. “There are actually a great number of students who are parenting on campus. It’s just not something that’s particularly visible.”
“For many of my colleagues, they care about this issue regardless of their parenting status… This has been an issue that I’ve been passionate about since longer before I was parenting,” she added.
In 2017, Renzi created a report for Xavier administration, then headed by former president Father Michael Graham, detailing the intersection of race, gender and parental status among Xavier students. This study demonstrated that Xavier’s student parent population data aligned with national trends, showing that Xavier’s student parent population was disproportionately female and minority-identified.
When Renzi completed this report in 2017, she found that 7% of Xavier students were parents.
“National data suggest that students who are parenting are less likely to complete their degree in six years,” Renzi said. Data from the Institue for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) shows that while only 29% of non-parenting students leave college without a degree, 52% of student parents fail to graduate.
Further research from the IWPR clarifies that some of the major hurdles facing student parents — often leading to student parents’ inability to complete degrees — are scheduling conflicts, increased time demands, financial challenges and childcare availability.
In past years, students have criticized Xavier’s lack of prioritized scheduling, parking for expecting parents and childcare solutions.
“I have talked to my success coach, professors and academic advisor on how to navigate being pregnant,” former Xavier student parent Nadia Jeelani wrote in Newswire. “Their answers are very limited.”
Various local universities have adopted different models to provide childcare for students, staff and faculty at their institutions. The University of Cincinnati offers community members discounted rates at their university childcare program. Mount St. Joseph offers students inexpensive drop-in care, which Renzi commends for its flexibility.
Other institutions like Fifth Third Bank offer prioritized enrollment at local childcare centers, like the YMCA, which can ease the burden on parents struggling with year-long wait lists at many childcare locations.
Renzi hopes that Xavier could soon join or host a program like this.
“My ideal would be for us to have a university childcare center on or near campus that is affiliated university but not run by the university. It would be tuition based, but the university would probably subsidize it in some form,” she said, adding that other universities have also helped to subsidize programs like this by funding building rental costs, janitorial services or utilities.
For Renzi, this ideal also offers a potential for Xavier education students to utilize it as a practicum site. Xavier’s Montessori Lab School currently offers a similar experience for undergraduate Montessori education students, but it does not offer prioritized enrollment for students, staff or faculty.
In 2020, Renzi began organizing a March Gladness campaign as part of the university’s annual grassroots fundraising drive. This campaign garnered funds for both short-term and long-term initiatives.
“Donations are applied to… childcare initiatives, including an emergency fund for students and employees with childcare expenses/needs (our short-term project) and, in the long term, an on-site childcare facility,” the campaign’s site reads.
The campaign received $3,272 in donation last year, making it the most funded Special Project in March Gladness. Additionally, the university agreed to match donations for the project in 2021.
Though their long term goal is still in the distance, Renzi has begun working with Xavier’s human resources department to make the campaign’s emergency fund available to staff and faculty. However, that fund would not be available to students, which Renzi deems “insufficient.”
The professor added that there is grant money available to institutions seeking to build childcare centers, but that funding is contingent on “having certain plans in place” to maximize project success.
As national data surrounding student parents changes, Renzi hopes to present Dr. Colleen Hancyz, president, with a new childcare plan to ensure Xavier is meeting the needs of its current student parents.
“I imagine our percentage of students who are parenting have probably grown some, especially as we’ve reinvested in adult learning,” she noted.
Renzi recommends that students interested in supporting student parents engage in meaningful conversation about on-campus challenges and solutions.
“Xavier has, in some ways, long appeared to be a school that does not serve a parenting population. Anything that students can do to show that this is not the case can be helpful,” she said.
Ultimately, Renzi hopes that this initiative can help Xavier to fulfill its Jesuit commitments to student success.
“What better way to live out a Catholic Jesuit mission that is pro-life and encouraging students to use education to better their circumstances than having a way for any parenting student to have access to education,” she said.