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Community College Students Want to Use More Effective Birth Control Methods But Can’t Always Get What They Want

Kristine Hopkins, Celia Hubert, Kate Coleman-Minahan, Amanda Jean Stevenson, Kari White, Daniel Grossman, and Joseph E. Potter


Female community college students who have a child while in college are 65% more likely to drop out than those who don’t. Community college students experience several risk factors for having a child before they are ready. Many are between the ages of 18 and 24, which is the age group that has the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and births. Many are also lower-income and racial/ethnic minority students, groups that are more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy or birth than higher income women and non-Latina white women. Community college students are also less likely than four-year college students to have health insurance or access to reproductive health services from on-campus health centers.

In this brief, the authors examine if community college students want to use more effective birth control methods and, if so, whether they are able to access those methods.

Methods of birth control that are more effective include those for which nine or fewer women in 100 will get pregnant while using the method over the course of a year. The IUD and implant (which are sometimes called long-acting reversible contraception, or LARC) are the most effective of these methods; fewer than one woman per 100 per year will get pregnant while using one. Hormonal methods such as the pill, ring, patch, or shot, are also considered more effective. Condoms, withdrawal, and natural family planning are considered less effective methods.

This brief focuses on the results for 966 young women from three community colleges in Dallas, South Texas and West Texas who provided complete information and were considered at risk of unintended pregnancy.

Key Findings

  • Overall, 68% of the women wanted to be using more effective birth control methods but only 30% were actually using them (see figure).
    • 21% of young women in the study wanted to use an IUD or implant but only 9% were using one of these LARC methods.
    • 47% wanted to use the pill, ring, patch, or shot, but less than half, 21%, were using a hormonal method.
    • Only 18% of women said they wanted to use condoms or withdrawal but three times that many, 54%, were using one of these less effective methods.
    • 16% of women surveyed used no birth control method at all.
  • Among the young women who wanted to use more effective birth control methods but were not, top reasons were financial, such as not being able to afford the method, and informational, such as not knowing where to get the method.

 Figure for brief 3-5

This figure1 shows that 68% of Texas community college students at risk of pregnancy wanted to be using the IUD, implant, pill, ring, patch, or shot but only 30% were actually using these more effective methods.
*<1% (8 students) used a natural family planning method.

Click here to expand figure

Policy Implications

These findings suggest that improving information about and access to health insurance coverage and low-cost contraception could increase community college students’ use of more effective methods of birth control. This could help community college students have children when they are ready, thus improving their chances of successfully completing college.

Community colleges could implement several strategies to help students avoid having a child before they are ready. Colleges could provide information about enrolling in public or private health insurance—as well as information about pregnancy prevention and contraceptive methods—during orientation, in academic courses and events on campus, and through peer-to-peer and staff-to-student mentoring. Colleges could also connect students with local family planning clinics by, for example, providing links to clinic finders on the college website. Clinics, state health officials, and other groups that administer subsidized family planning programs could also improve outreach to students.


1Hopkins, K, Hubert, C, Coleman-Minahan, K, Stevenson, A.J, White, K., Grossman, D, & Potter, J.E. (2018). Unmet demand for short-acting hormonal and long-acting reversible contraception among community college students in Texas. Journal of American College Health.

Suggested Citation

Hopkins, K, Hubert, C, Coleman-Minahan, K, Stevenson, A.J, White, K., Grossman, D, & Potter, J.E. (2018). Community college students want to use more effective birth control methods but can’t always get what they want. PRC Research Brief 3(5). DOI: 10.15781/T2RJ49B80.

About the Authors

Kristine Hopkins ( is a research assistant professor of sociology and faculty research associate at the Population Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin; Celia Hubert is a Catedra-CONACYT researcher assigned to the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico; Kate Coleman-Minahan is an assistant professor of nursing, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus; Amanda Jean Stevenson is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder; Kari White is an associate professor in the department of Health Care Organization & Policy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham; Daniel Grossman is a professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California, San Francisco; and Joseph E. Potter is a professor of sociology and a faculty research associate at the Population Research Center. Potter is the principal investigator; Hopkins, Grossman, and White are investigators; Coleman-Minahan and Stevenson are co-investigators, and Hubert is an affiliated researcher with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which is based at UT’s Population Research Center.


This project was supported by a grant from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. Infrastructure support for the Population Research Center at the University of Texas was provided by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P2CHD042849).

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