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College Student Caregivers More Likely to Stop Classes
Gallup Blog

College Student Caregivers More Likely to Stop Classes

by Jonathan Rothwell

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Even before the pandemic, boosting college completion was a major goal for both policymakers and institutions. Familial obligations have long been recognized as potentially coming into conflict with students' focused dedication to coursework and thereby an obstacle to degree completion. Data from the Lumina-Gallup State of the Student Experience survey shed new light on the number of students confronting caregiving responsibilities and the consequences for completion.

Nearly-one third (30%) of all currently enrolled college students (including those pursuing a bachelor's degree, associate degree, certificate, certification or other industry certification) report that they are parents of minor children or caregivers to adults. This includes 42% of students pursuing an associate degree program and 21% of those pursuing a bachelor's degree.

Students Who Are Parents or Caregivers to Adult, by Type of Program
All students Pursuing associate degree Pursuing bachelor's degree
% % %
Parent 21 32 16
Caregiver to adult 16 21 14
Parent or caregiver to adult 30 42 24
LUMINA-GALLUP STUDENT STUDY, SEPT. 22-OCT. 5, 2020

These results are from the Lumina-Gallup Student Study, conducted Sept. 22-Oct. 5, 2020, with 3,941 students pursuing a bachelor's and 2,064 students pursuing an associate degree and 400 students pursuing a certification, industry certification or a certificate. Surveys were conducted using an opt-in panel, and the sample was weighted to represent the national population of currently enrolled college students.

Caregiving Duties Differ by Employment Obligations, Race

Enrolled students who provide domestic care to children or adults are also much more likely to be employed (either full or part time) than those who do not have those responsibilities. Among caregivers of children or adults, 65% of associate degree-seeking students and 64% of bachelor's degree-seeking students are also working compared with 57% of those without caregiving duties in associate programs and 42% in bachelor's programs.

These differences are only partly due to age, as older students are more likely to have caregiving responsibilities and to be working than younger students, but caretakers of the same age are more likely to be working than non-caretakers.

Employed College Students, by Program Level and Caregiving Responsibility
% Full- or part-time workers
Pursuing associate degree Pursuing bachelor's degree
% %
Parent 65 64
Not a parent 58 43
Caregiver to adult 68 68
Not a caregiver to adult 59 43
Parent or caregiver to adult 65 64
Neither parent nor caregiver to adult 57 42
LUMINA-GALLUP STUDENT STUDY, SEPT. 22-OCT. 5, 2020

Likewise, Black and Hispanic college students are more likely than White and Asian students to be parents or caregivers to adults.

Caregiving Students, by Race, Ethnicity and Degree Level of Program
% Who are parents or caregivers to adults
All programs Pursuing associate degree Pursuing bachelor's degree
% % %
Hispanic students 39 53 31
Black students 35 44 28
White students 26 38 21
Asian students 20 31 17
LUMINA-GALLUP STUDENT STUDY, SEPT. 22-OCT. 5, 2020

Caregiving Students More Likely to Consider Pulling Out of Classes

College students who provide care to children or adults are far more likely than those who are not parents or caregivers to say they have considered stopping taking courses in the past six months, 44% to 31%. The significant relationship between caregiving or parental responsibilities and consideration of pulling out of courses persists even after controlling for race, program level, age, gender, marital status, household income, and the amount of money taken out in loans.

Of the two caregiver groups, students who care for an adult are more likely than those with children to say they have considered stopping their classes. Also, associate program students are more likely than those in bachelor's programs to have thought about it.

Caregiving Responsibilities of Students Who Have Considered Stopping Classes
In the past six months, have you considered stopping taking courses? % Yes
All students Pursuing associate degree Pursuing bachelor's degree
% % %
Parent 42 46 40
Not parent 32 34 32
Caregiver to adult 53 58 49
Not caregiver to adult 31 32 30
Parent or caregiver to adult 44 46 42
Not parent or caregiver to adult 31 32 30
LUMINA-GALLUP STUDENT STUDY, SEPT. 22-OCT. 5, 2020

Caregivers Cite Caregiving Among Top Reasons for Withdrawal

Those college students who have considered stopping classes were asked to indicate which reasons, from a list of 14 possibilities, best explain why they thought of doing so. Caregiving for an adult or a child is one of the key reasons, but others are about equally at play.

Thirty percent of all students who care for an adult cited that care as the reason for their possible withdrawal, 26% attributed it to the cost of schooling and 26% to obtaining a new job.

Parents were more likely to cite childcare -- with 37% citing these responsibilities and another 27% indicating the cost of attendance, 25% the coronavirus, 24% finding a new job, and 20% providing care to an adult.

At the same time, college students who do not have caregiving responsibilities were most likely to say COVID-19 (57%), emotional stress (46%) and the cost of attendance (33%) were the key reasons for considering stopping coursework.

Why Students Have Considered Stopping Courses, by Caregiving Role
Which of the following describes why you considered stopping taking courses? (Select all that apply.)
Parent Caregiver to adult Not parent or caregiver to adult
% % %
Childcare responsibilities 37 24 3
Cost of attendance 27 26 33
COVID-19/Coronavirus 25 23 57
Got a new job 24 26 8
Care for family member or friend 20 30 8
Health-related reasons 18 19 12
Emotional stress 17 15 46
Lost job 16 18 12
Coursework was too difficult 13 12 18
Did not believe degree/credential would help achieve personal goals 9 14 11
Completing degree/credential taking longer than expected 8 10 8
Did not believe degree/credential would help achieve career goals 8 9 7
Courses not relevant to future career 7 9 7
Education was low quality 6 10 15
LUMINA-GALLUP STUDENT STUDY, SEPT. 22-OCT. 5, 2020

Bottom Line

Three in 10 college students are either the parent of a minor child, the caregiver of an adult or both. These students are significantly more likely than those without such responsibilities to say they are considering withdrawing from classes, and they say their caregiving duties are a top reason for it.

Those pursuing associate degrees are particularly likely to say they have caregiving obligations, and they are also more likely to say they are thinking about dropping out. While community colleges and other institutions that offer associate degrees may already be aware of the caregiving demands on a large portion of their students and may offer campus programs that provide such care services to students, these data suggest that more needs to be done to address the needs of these students and retain them.

Author(s)

Jonathan Rothwell is Principal Economist at Gallup.


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