“Student fathers are ghosts”: why fathers have a long chance of graduating from university | American education

While his wife was in hospital labor with their third child, Joshua Castillo was in the waiting room to complete a computer science final and two quizzes.

By then, he was used to juggling the demands of fatherhood with the deadlines and inflexible expectations of Northern Virginia Community College, where he studied computer science while working full-time and helping raise his children – a responsibility for which he said he didn’t get much sympathy from faculty.

“Most of the teachers I’ve met really have this mindset: it’s your full-time job, it’s all you have to worry about right now.”

Castillo is one of approximately 3.8 million students raising children in college. About 70% of them are women, according to Education Department data analyzed by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. But around 1.1 million are fathers, who are often overlooked and have even greater chances of graduating.

“If student parents are an invisible population, student fathers are ghosts,” said Autumn Green, who studies student parents at Wellesley College.

Sixty-one percent of student fathers drop out of college without a degree, compared to 48% of student mothers, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Among single, black and Latino fathers, the dropout rate is about 70%.

Little attention has been paid to the dismal graduation rates of student fathers – despite alarm bells ringing about the huge drop in the total number of men attending and graduating from college.

Enrollment has fallen nearly twice as much for men as for women since the start of the pandemic, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, and women now outnumber men in higher education by 59 to 41 %.

“More research needs to be done so we can determine why” so many men with children are dropping out, said Chaunté White, senior research associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Despite the lack of research on student fathers specifically, experts say they are affected by many of the same issues as student mothers. These include difficulties with finances and childcare, while integrating children, work and class into the day.

About half of all student parents are people of color, who often face other barriers to graduation.

“We know there are significant downsides to black and brown fathers entering higher education,” said Nicole Lynn Lewis, the founder of Generation Hope, who was also a student mother. “Not only is it the student-parent experience and all the obstacles that come with it, but it’s also the experience of being a black man and trying to earn your education in a higher education system. and even in a larger educational system that was not designed for you.

Men without a diploma have better access than women to jobs that only require a high school diploma and that are financially rewarding but physically demanding, such as welding and construction. These jobs can prevent them from going to university or, if they do, take them away from their studies and make them more likely to drop out of school.

Student fathers are less likely to participate in student parent programs, experts noted, and may feel less comfortable asking for help, such as time off, when their children are sick.

Some experts believe that student fathers’ graduation issues are cultural and tied to why men are less likely than women to go to college in the first place.

“One of the biggest things is this family pressure, this social pressure to be a provider,” said Adrian Huerta, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California who studies parents in community colleges. of State. “This is where education becomes a second, third or fourth priority over everything else.”

Benitez plays with his son in the park. Photograph: Yunuen Bonaparte/The Guardian

This social pressure is one of the reasons why Jesus Benitez found it difficult to complete his studies. He had his son at 17 and dropped out of high school. At 18, he was a single father.

Growing up in the Bronx, New York, Benitez spent a lot of time caring for her younger siblings because her mom worked a lot. He saw the same dynamic start to happen with his own child.

“I was working too much, I wasn’t there for my son,” he said. “And I decided to go back to school.”

Benitez earned his GED degree through Cuny Fatherhood Academy, a City University of New York program for black and Latino fathers. Program mentors pushed him to earn his associate degree at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, where Fatherhood Academy began.

Benitez worked full-time on campus while attending LaGuardia and then City College of Manhattan, a four-year college. At one point, he considered giving up.

“I grew up on the streets, so me being in college, it was just, ‘What am I doing here? I shouldn’t even be in this room with all these reading smart kids’ , he said. “I was, like, ‘Man, I’m losing money, I should go to work.'”

But the same mentors who had pushed him to pursue an education in the first place were there to push him away when he felt like quitting.

“They came out and looked for me, to take me back to school,” Benitez said. “If they weren’t constantly helping me, I don’t think I would have finished.”

The Fatherhood Academy program is one of the few in the country for student fathers. It prepares men with children for high school and college equivalency tests by offering tuition, tutoring, counseling, parenting seminars and weekly allowances.

One of the most powerful things about Fatherhood Academy, said Raheem Brooks, who runs the program at LaGuardia, is bringing fathers together in a room to talk.

“A lot of our guys, if you were to ask them, a lot of them didn’t have a father in their life or [they had] fathers who weren’t involved,” Brooks said. “They don’t want to carry on that negative legacy, they want to empower their kids and be a part of their kids’ lives.”

About 77% of students complete the program. Benitez received his BA in Philosophy in May 2020. He is now a mentor in the program and a parenting counselor at the Aspen Institute.

Helping dads graduate isn’t just limited to men, experts say. When fathers go to school, they are more likely to earn a salary that can support their families, and their children are also more likely to go to college. This, in turn, can stimulate the economy.

Short of creating programs like Fatherhood Academy, experts say, colleges could expand on-campus child care, provide more grants and scholarships to parents, revise policies around allowing children in classrooms classrooms and offices and collect more data.

But student dads say the first step is simply to remind people they exist.

“Fathers,” Benitez said, “are the forgotten parents.”

This story on student fathers was produced by the Hechinger report, an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for their higher education newsletter

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