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Education Researchers Study Impacts of Affordable, High-Quality Child Care on OU Students’ Success

November 1, 2022

Education Researchers Study Impacts of Affordable, High-Quality Child Care on OU Students’ Success

OU Happy Teacher Project team members Courtney Dewhirst, Brittany Hott, Erin Casey, Kyong-Ah Kwon and Rebecca Waggoner.
Happy OU Project team members Courtney Dewhirst, Brittany Hott, Erin Casey, Kyong-Ah Kwon and Rebecca Waggoner.

Low-income college students enrolled at the University of Oklahoma who are parents of young children will soon have additional support services, including high-quality, campus-based child care, additional financial aid and more, thanks to a four-year research project funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

According to estimates by the National Center for Education Statistics, more than one-fifth of all college students are parents. This is a challenge that college students who are also parents must face in addition to their classes and associated demands. Further, research indicates that a college degree remains a major benefit for raising low-income families out of poverty. For example, a recent needs assessment survey led by the Happy OU Project team showed there is an urgent need for high-quality and affordable early childhood education programs located on campus and with extended hours, especially for low-income student families. 

Principal investigator Kyong-Ah Kwon, Ph.D., for the Happy OU Project, said, “Through establishing a support system with various campus and community partners, we expect that this project will help OU low-income students complete their schoolwork and successfully prepare for a career, reduce financial and parenting stress, promote child and family well-being, and improve the rate of students’ retention and completion of a degree at OU.”

In addition to child care services through OU’s Institute of Child Development and other local child care centers, the $2,998,016 funding from this award will support what the researchers call “wrap-around” services – expenses like mental health services, food and baby supplies, academic and career support, and a semester-long checkout of a laptop to qualifying low-income students enrolled at the university who are also the parent of a young child or children.

The Institute of Child Development at the University of Oklahoma moved to a new building on Asp Avenue this summer and, as a result, can now expand its offerings for children and families. One of the major goals of this project is to add two infant and toddler classrooms in the institute and to “provide a significant reduction in cost to parents who are students to enroll their child in a high-quality and innovative early childhood program,” Kwon said.

OU preservice teachers also benefit from the addition of these classrooms because they complete field placement hours at the ICD, observe and receive mentorship from highly qualified teachers, engage in teaching activities with children, and learn more about the many components of teaching. Likewise, the ICD serves as a research hub for OU faculty studying child development and effective practices in education.

The OU Happy Teacher Project team members in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education worked with the ICD, other OU organizations and community partners, including the Center for Children and Families and the Norman Public Library to develop the research effort.

Kwon, associate professor and the Cable Endowed Chair in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, leads the project with team members Courtney Dewhirst, Ph.D.; Brittany Hott, Ph.D. BCBA-D; Erin Casey, Ph.D.; the director of the Early Childhood Education Institute, Diane Horm, Ph.D.; and director of the Institute of Child Development at OU, Becca Waggoner.

“What we do regarding research is to evaluate the effect of the program on OU student parents’ study and career preparation, retention, financial and parenting stress,” Kwon said. “We also look at how the program participation is associated with family engagement and child outcomes. This program would also contribute to building a more supportive system at OU and in the community for OU students, which we hope to help OU recruit and retain students who are from diverse backgrounds.”

The researchers hope the results of the study will inform longer-term support for OU low-income college students and their families.

“We believe that this program will offer a great opportunity and support for the success of OU students and the OU community,” Kwon said. “We are planning to continue to apply for renewing the grant after it ends, but we also want to solicit more investment from OU and the community to make it sustainable and extend the efforts.”

A separate effort led by Kwon and OU’s Happy Teacher Project team recently received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support research focused on analyzing data to determine what causes turnover and instability in the workforce and what can be done to recruit and retain qualified teachers in Head Start programs.

The four-year project, “OU Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program for Students’ Success,” is funded by an expected $2,998,016 from the U.S. Department of Education.