The University Record, February 18, 2002

Special needs of student parents addressed

By Laurel Thomas Gnagey

The Pound House Children’s Center’s Kanene Isiofia leaps into action. Alexa Johnson (left) stands by with Phillip Decker (background). (Photos by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)
A special joint Center for the Education of Women/Rackham Graduate School task force has issued a number of recommendations for improving the University experience for students who are parents. In a recent report, “Enriching the Mix: Responding to the Needs of Student Parents at the University of Michigan,” the group suggests several “family-friendly” steps to address a number of concerns raised by students, faculty and administrators.

Student Parent Task Force chair Carol Hollenshead, director of the Center for the Education of Women, reported that the task force examined a wide range of issues. In its final report, the task force recommended that efforts be undertaken to:

  • Establish a centralized mechanism for collecting and distributing information for and about student parents

  • Improve the academic and cultural climate for student parents

  • Increase the flexibility of academic programs to enable student parents to meet their academic and family needs

  • Increase the availability of quality licensed child care in the local and campus community

  • Increase funding to help students pay for child care

  • Encourage all schools to determine how to best address the additional financial needs of students who have high monthly expenses due to dependent care or other unique costs

  • Expand and improve health insurance options and information for students and their dependents

  • Modify buildings across campus to accommodate the needs of students, faculty and staff who have children (e.g. adding diaper changing areas and lactation rooms)

  • Provide electronic data ports to all family housing residents

    The final item in the proposal calls for the provost to appointment a committee that will solicit input on the plan, prioritize the list and monitor implementation of the Student Parent Task Force recommendations. Hollenshead says the committee already is in place and soon will begin working to implement task force recommendations. A new grant received to address some of the day care initiatives (see related story) will jump-start campus efforts.

    The original task force included faculty, staff and student parents from across University departments.

    “Students who are also parents face a special set of challenges, and the task force report will be an invaluable guide as we work to help address those challenges,” says Interim Provost Paul Courant. “I am grateful to the members of the task force for their work. I am also grateful to the members of the newly-appointed implementation committee. I look forward to working with them and with others on campus as we address the issues raised in the report.”

    The task force report says the discussion of the needs of student parents is an issue of diversity. The report notes the University’s commitment to maintaining and supporting a diverse student population. Like other groups of historically underrepresented students, student parents and their children enrich the University’s academic and cultural environments, the report notes.

    Hollenshead says these students bring unique experiences and perspectives to the community. “Facing a greater number of responsibilities, student parents tend to be more organized and focused in their work,” she says. “They serve as role models for other students as they demonstrate how to balance family and work. Additionally, implementation of family-friendly policies and programs also can be a highly effective recruiting tool in attracting the best students, faculty and staff to the University.”

    A complete copy of the Student Parent Task Force report can be viewed on the Web, www.umich.edu/~cew/stupart.html.


    Student parent implementation committee

    Carol Hollenshead, director, Center for the Education of Women (Chair)

    Jill Becker, professor of psychology, LS&A

    Claudia Figueroa, graduate student parent, biological chemistry

    Rachel Glick, associate dean and clinical assistant professor, Medical School

    Ada Sue Hinshaw, dean and professor, School of Nursing

    Jayne London, coordinator of diversity initiatives, Rackham Graduate School

    Leslie de Pietro, director, Work/Life Resource Center

    Suellyn Scarnecchia, assistant to the provost, Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs (also associate dean for clinical affairs and clinical professor of law, Law School)

    Thelma Thomas, associate dean, Rackham Graduate School (also associate professor, history of art, and associate curator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology)

    Rodger Wolf, administrative manager II in the Division of Student Affairs

    Staff: Beth Sullivan, policy advocate, Center for the Education of Women