College is frustrating. Being a parent while being in college can be downright disencouraging. It often includes what seem like endless days, starting before the sun comes up and not ending until well after midnight: class early in the day, work ‘till midnight, then homework, or not starting on classwork on days off until nine or 10 because I need those hours after class to hang out with my son. Sometimes I find myself wondering if staying in school is even worth it.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy research https://iwpr.org/publications/parents-college-numbers/), 1 in 5 college students are parents. While GPA averages for student parents are higher than those of their peers,it takes them longer to graduate and they generally have to take out more student loans than the average student due to a number of factors, including the cost of raising a family.
Student parents are more likely to drop out as well: They tend to have less time to work on schoolwork, they have more financial responsibilities, and they don’t always have a strong support system behind them. It doesn’t help when resources such as on-campus daycares are being closed on campuses all over the country at a rapid rate.
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of people on campus who help non-traditional students or that programs aren’t available. I’ve been very fortunate at UCA--at times I’ve had to bring my son to class, and all of my professors have been more than willing to allow my one-and-a-half-year-old to sit in on lectures, no matter how disruptive he may have been.
I’m extremely privileged in the fact that I can afford and have childcare for my son most days, and that I also have family members who can pick him up and watch him while I work. If it weren’t for those two things, I would have had to have dropped out a while ago.
It’s indubitably harder to get involved on campus and make friends outside of your department as a student parent, because you aren’t immersed in the campus culture like traditional students are. Most of the time, we’re on campus for class or for projects that require us to be. I’m not doing most of the things students my age are doing because I’m putting everything I have into providing for and becoming a successful person and mom for my son.
College is difficult when it isn’t the main focus of your life. I do homework on my breaks at work, in between classes, and at times when I should definitely be asleep. I also make sure I put time aside to spend with my son, because he’s not going to be little forever and I need to take advantage of it while he still is. It’s hard and stressful at times, but it’s also so rewarding to know that once I graduate, my chances of being able to provide a better life for my family will go up significantly.
I had my son young, and trying to navigate adulthood/motherhood/college all at once has definitely been and continues to be a learning experience. It’s no one else’s responsibility to make sure I’m doing well in school; I’m an adult. It’s ultimately up to me to make the decisions that I think are best for my family and to put in the work to make sure I get a good education.
I’m not trying to say that student parents/non-traditional students are more special than anyone else, but as a whole we often have a lot on our plates, and that deserves to be recognized.