Examines 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation data to determine the characteristics of the working student-parent population and how these families combine education and training with work; then synthesizes findings and recommendations about supports that low-income families need to complete educational goals.

Within the education system, there is concern over “the low completion rates of students attending community colleges and four-year schools, and [an interest in making] institutions more accessible to nontraditional students. [As a result, it is important] to better understand the working student-parent population and supports that might help increase their educational attainment. Further, passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and reauthorization of the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) may provide additional opportunities to support these students. [The authors] find in their examination of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) that about half of low-income parents engaged in education and training combine it with work. Nationwide, approximately 1 million low-income working parents attend school. This brief aims to gain a better understanding of the working student-parent population and the supports and interventions that may facilitate educational success” (p.1).

The authors “investigate the following questions using data from the SIPP….[Their] goal is to inform policymakers, funders, and practitioners who have the opportunity to help low-income working families complete higher education that may allow them to better support their children and families:

1. What are the characteristics of these families?

2. In what ways are these families combining education, training, and work?

3. What supports are these families receiving to work and go to school?

4. What do these data suggest about new efforts to support these families through WIOA and the CCDF” (p.2)?

“Individual-level data for the analysis come from the…SIPP 2008 panel….This study focuses on interviews, conducted from December 2010 to March 2011, of parents ages 18 to 50 who have incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level or who receive public assistance, are working and enrolled in an education program, and have at least one dependent child under age 12” (p.3). In addition, the brief merges this core data with “data from the topical module on child care. Data in the child care module are collected only from parents with children from birth to age 5 and only from the ‘designated’ parent, reducing the sample size for questions specifically about child care” (p.3).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The authors find that “at the time of the survey in 2010–11, 968,106 low-income working parents were in education programs nationwide” (p.3). They summarize their findings about this population as follows: • “Nearly 1 million low-income parents were working while they attended school, with about half working full time. 
 • Of those who worked full time, nearly half also attended school full time. 
 • About half were between the ages of 25 and 35. 
 • About half had one child and about a third had two children, with about 42 percent indicating their youngest child was 2 or younger. 
 • More than one-third reported that their primary employment occurred during some type of nontraditional hours, such as the night shift, a rotating shift, a split shift, irregular hours, or some other nontraditional schedule; about 8 percent of parents reported having more than one job. 
 • Parents with young children were the most likely to work full time. 
 • About half with children younger than age 5 relied exclusively on family members to care for their children. • Slightly more than two-thirds received educational financial assistance such as Pell grants, student loans, or other educational aid. Half received other social service benefits, such as [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families], or [Supplemental Security Income]. Only 15 percent reported receiving child care subsidies. 
 • Almost one in five received neither educational assistance nor social service benefits” (p.13). Based on these findings, the authors make the following recommendations: • “Student parents need assistance navigating complex schedules. Through counseling support provided by educational programs, employed low-income student parents may be better able to design workable schedules that can meet their needs” (p.15). • “Student parents need access to financial supports, including child care” (p.15). • “Scheduling innovations in educational programs could help simplify scheduling complexities for parents” (p.15). • “Child care policies need to be designed to support parents in education and training. Policies that restrict use of vouchers while parents are in education and training may prevent some low-income parents from accessing education and training” (p.15). • “More child care is needed during nontraditional hours and for young children” (p.15). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)