Forsyth Technical Community College is working to improve how student parents access child care on campus.

The two-year college is part of a new coalition called the Child Care for Student Parents Cohort. The cohort is led by New America, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. Iris Palmer, the organization’s director for community colleges, said there’s a disproportionate number of student parents attending community colleges, and many campuses don’t have enough resources to serve them.

“And so we thought, if we really want to tackle this issue straight on, then what’s really important is to go to where the struggle is most obvious,” Palmer said. “And I think community colleges are that place.”

The Child Care for Student Parents cohort is made up of five community colleges across the United States, spanning from Oregon to Massachusetts. In the coming year, New America will visit each of the campuses to research how they are elevating child care access.

Palmer said they plan to interview both program leaders and student parents, as well as analyze what federal and state policy structures allowed for each campus’ childcare options.

“We’re going to be really trying to dig deep into what worked on this campus — why were they able to maybe have a more systemic solution than some other colleges?” Palmer said. “To learn more about what were the structures that helped them, and what were the structures that held them back.”

At Forsyth Technical, one key structure has been funding.

Over the past couple of years, Forsyth Technical has used grants to partner with a local daycare to provide drop-in childcare services for students. Eventually, the Winston-Salem based college was also able to create some limited drop-in services on campus.

This semester, the college launched an initiative called SPARC care, which stands for Student Parent Advocacy Resource Center. At least twice a semester, student parents can sign up for additional child care slots for a week.

Shanta Reddick, the director of Forsyth Tech Cares, the college’s student outreach and support service, said the purpose of this extra support is to allow student parents to take time for themselves.

“If that means you need to get tutoring done, or you just need a moment to breathe because you know it’s coming down to the wire,” Reddick said. “That’s what it’s there for — for you to have a moment to breathe.”

An Adult Learner Open House at Forsyth Tech in 2023.
An Adult Learner Open House at Forsyth Tech in 2023. Photo courtesy of Forsyth Tech

Reddick said she is working on growing the SPARC program, using grant funding from the New America partnership.

This includes building a permanent drop-in childcare site on campus, a library resource center filled with books for both student parents and their children, and a work space where student parents can focus on their school and personal projects.

Reddick said providing on campus childcare resources has been proven to help student parents stay in school and earn their degrees in less time. And she hopes those benefits will also trickle down to the next generation.

“It allows their children to come in and be a part of the process, to see what their parent is accomplishing,” Reddick said. “It allows them to have a deeper trajectory of where they want to be. It encourages them to do good in school. That second generation, that’s a big piece.”

But this structure that promotes childcare on Forsyth’s campus — funding — is the same structure that’s holding them back.

“I’ve been hunting and looking everywhere for grants. For a program to grow, you need funding,” Reddick said. “Unfortunately, our legislature has not seen the need to fund resources in ways to help student parents.”

Efficiently accessing childcare funding isn’t an issue that is unique to North Carolina. Palmer, from New America, said some schools are “jumping through a lot of hoops” to figure out how to use funding.

“We’ve heard about campus childcare centers closing, the funding drying up, them not being effective,” Palmer said. We want to dig deeper into why can’t they do it — what’s the disconnect there?”

Palmer said one of the goals of the cohort study is to see how funding resources interact with each other, and how they can be made more effective.

“There’s ways money can work in all of that,” Palmer said. “That maybe could make this a little bit better, if we look at it from a systems and policy lens.”

At the end of the project, New America plans to share its research and findings with both the advocacy community and legislative policymakers. They will also host a series of national convenings with organizations and colleges.

Forsyth Technical Community College hopes to finish the Student Parent Advocacy Resource Center by December or January of next year.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC's higher education reporter and 2023 Fletcher Fellow, working in partnership with Open Campus.