Championing Student Parent Success in the Cradle-to-Career Data System

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Juggling coursework and family can be a lot, as Dia, a parenting student at Los Angeles Pierce College, knows all too well. Dia was hired as a student worker with Project SPARC (Student Parents Are Reimagining CalWORKs), a statewide effort that empowers parenting CalWORKs students to drive forward systems change through leadership development, research and policy development, and advocacy. Through this work study opportunity, Dia and other SPARC students design solutions that address their needs as parenting community college students and advocate for these solutions to systems leaders and policymakers.  

Programs like Project SPARC, and others we’ve highlighted at colleges across the state, can play a major role in helping both individual parenting students succeed and institutional leaders working hard to improve student outcomes. However, the success of these programs, and these students, hinges on effectively understanding and addressing the unique needs of parenting students—a task rendered nearly impossible without adequate and equitable data collection and use. Programs like Project SPARC are successful largely because, in the absence of a cohesive state data system, they initiate their own local data collection. And while their efforts are helpful, at the state level, education leaders and advocates are still unable to answer questions on programs like Project SPARC in the state as a whole, including not being able to evaluate whether community colleges have provided meaningful support to parenting students over time, whether there have been changes in attendance trends, or if interventions have had a significant impact on parenting students. 

But now, an opportunity to change all that is upon us. Advocates are feeling optimistic about the state’s development of the Cradle-to-Career (C2C) Data System, an online database that will integrate state-level data currently siloed within agencies, providing unprecedented insights into education and workforce outcomes. We’ve long understood how inadequate data perpetuates the marginalization of underserved students and in this case, advocates underscore the issue that parenting student data has been inadequately collected at the state level. For California to finally be able to answer important questions about outcomes for student populations, especially parenting students, it must address the persistent gaps in data collection at the local institutional level before data integration into the state’s C2C Data System can take place. Only then can advocates and educators fully learn and address the lived experiences and distinctive needs of this demographic and commit to a concerted statewide effort to close the opportunity and achievement gaps faced by many parenting students.    

As California continues to make progress on its new longitudinal C2C Data System, here are four key things for advocates to keep in mind:  

  1. Parenting students make up roughly 20% of California’s undergraduates—many of whom are first-generation, low-income, women of color. Supporting parenting students is a matter of racial, economic, and gender equity.
  2. Inadequate data in policymaking perpetuates the inequities that parenting students experience because we have too little information about their needs. 
  3. California state leaders must consistently and sustainably fund the C2C Data System in ways that reinforce local colleges’ ability to collect and integrate student parent data into the system. 
  4. This year, a new coalition launched to ensure local and state education leaders are more attentive to the policy changes needed for equity. The California Alliance for Student Parent Success, co-led by EdTrust-West and California Competes: Higher Education for a Strong Economy, introduced the GAINS for Student Parents Act (AB 2458) that would ensure parenting students get the financial aid they are entitled to, standardize parenting student data collection across higher education institutions, and integrate that data into the C2C Data System. Advocates can support the bill as it moves through the legislative process, currently waiting to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and apply to join the Alliance’s efforts in advancing student parent success.  

As California progresses in its efforts to democratize data, it will likely encounter further obstacles to incorporating data on parenting students. That’s why advocates and communities must remain committed and unwavering in their support for parenting students striving to better their lives, two generations at a time. 

 Roy Tongilava

Roy Tongilava

TK-12 Policy Analyst

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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.