Parenting Adult Learners’ Experiences in Higher Education


African American Boy Studying with Father at Home

Postsecondary administrators interested in serving parenting adult learners need to know more about them and the supports they need in their pursuit and completion of postsecondary credentials. This project leverages new data from AIR’s recent survey of adult learners and one-on-one interviews with a subset of parenting adult learners.

We found that solutions that may work for adult learners overall might not work for parenting adult learners without specific consideration. For example, one parenting adult learner described how their college offered evening and weekend courses, which would have been helpful—but on-campus childcare was only open during business hours, which made it difficult to take advantage of the evening and weekend courses.

Overall, we find that parenting adult learners have many similar experiences and considerations as adult learners who are not parents. This is not surprising, because all adult learners have other responsibilities and priorities that prevent them from orienting their lives and time solely around college courses and activities—though this may be particularly true for parenting adult learners. Specifically, we found:

  • Parenting adult learners have similar motivations, centered on accomplishing personal goals and securing financial stability. Some also cite the importance of being a role model for their families as a motivator for enrolling. 
  • Parenting adult learners consider some of the same factors when making their decision about when or where to attend, prioritizing flexibility and affordability – with flexible scheduling and course delivery options showing up as particularly important.
  • Although they describe similar needs for supports (e.g., academic advising, career counseling) as they progress toward their degree, parenting adult learners reported taking advantage of such supports less often than other adult learners.


Building on a broad research base on the experiences of parenting adult learners, results from this research point to three ways practitioners and policymakers can better align programs and resources to this student population: 1) consider practices that encourage a family-friendly environment, 2) tailor outreach to parenting adult learners, and 3) collect and examine data on parenting students.