22 Nov California AB 2881: New rights for parenting students in CA
California has just enacted a new law to support parenting college students! The law is a unique and welcome addition; while roughly 1 in 5 college students is a student parent, there are only a handful of state laws designed to protect and aid this important student population. When it goes into effect in 2023, AB 2881 will require colleges and universities in California to provide priority registration for student parents, and to notify them of resources and supports critical to their success. California is now the first state to require educational institutions to provide priority registration for college student parents! AB 2881 is an important lever to address the needs of student parents, and it also supports higher education systems in reaching their goals to reduce equity gaps more broadly. [UPDATE: review our AB 2881 Implementation Tools here]
Priority registration is a best practice for supporting student parents.
Student parents often experience “time poverty.” While they are often excellent at time management, student parents have more responsibilities and inflexible time demands than the average student and therefore need more institutional support. AB 2881 requires campuses to have a priority registration process in place for student parents by July 1, 2023.
Priority registration allows student parents to register for courses before some other students. This is an essential support that also benefits other students with important scheduling needs, such as students with disabilities and athletes. Student parents often navigate all the demands of higher education in addition to work, (often inflexible) childcare schedules and other parenting responsibilities. For example, a student parent may have to schedule courses around their child’s school drop off and pickup time or may want to build breaks into their day to make it easier to breastfeed without missing class. Others report needing priority registration to allow them to plan a course schedule that accommodates their disabled child’s medical appointments. Early registration is particularly important for students in programs with tight sequencing, or where required courses are only available once each year. By allowing student parents to have a wider choice of course scheduling options, priority registration ensures student parents will be less likely to have to choose between finishing their degree and being there for their families.
AB2881 sets the stage for better data collection on CA student parents
A lack of data on student parents has long slowed progress meeting their needs; if we don’t know how many student parents there are and where, how can we properly serve them? While AB 2881 doesn’t explicitly require colleges and universities to collect or report data on parenting students, it sets the stage for better data collection.
Under the law, institutions can choose how they identify student parents (using the FAFSA, CADAA, or other documentation). At minimum, colleges and universities following the law must provide priority registration for student parents who have children under the age of 18 who receive more than half of their support from the student. This definition excludes many parenting students who need services, such as those who share custody or who are caring for adult children with disabilities, but it does provide a vital starting point for assessing the number of student parents at a particular institution, and a foundation for tracking their progress. If implemented thoughtfully, AB 2881 can build a foundation for future progress supporting parenting students in California colleges and universities.
Providing resource navigation will ease bureaucratic barriers
In addition to ensuring California colleges and universities develop a priority registration system for student parents, the new CA law also requires them to create a student parent webpage, sharing information about available resources on campus and in the larger community. This webpage must be published by February 1, 2023, and should include information about the priority registration system, as well as information about CalFresh, the California Earned Income Tax Credit, the Young Child Tax Credit, and the California Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Institutions must provide the student parent webpage link to students as a part of campus orientations. Colleges and universities must also provide the student parent webpage link to faculty and encourage them to include the link in their syllabi. To ensure that the student parent internet webpage remains useful to student parents, AB 2881 requires that the webpage be reviewed and updated no later than the first day of every fall and spring semester or no later than the first day of every fall and spring quarter.
If you are a Title IX coordinator, university administrator, faculty member or student parent leader in California interested in hearing more, The Pregnant Scholar team will be hosting technical assistance sessions and other events to aid colleges in implementing AB 2881. Come join us! If you are not in California but want to learn more to support your own advocacy efforts you are also welcome to join.