Back in October, a student in one of my college classes disappeared. A few weeks later, I learned that she had given birth.
I am hopeful that I’ll see her again next fall. If I do, she will not be alone in balancing motherhood with her studies. Quite a few of my teenage and early-twenty-something students are parents. In a chance conversation, another student who’s a resident advisor in a dormitory for first-year students observed that she was hearing about, and seeing, more pregnancies.
I teach at a four-year college with little support for students who are mothers. For many such students juggling parenthood and their education, two-year community colleges have become a crucial option. With their lower tuition costs, two-year colleges are often far more accessible to students who are parents. However, as a report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) highlights, at a time when enrollments at community colleges are steadily rising — and when talk of the $1 trillion debt from student loans has become commonplace — federal funding for affordable child care to help student mothers is declining.
“While we celebrate the affordability and accessibility of community colleges, access is not enough; too many students enroll but don’t actually complete their coursework,” says AAUW Executive Director Linda D. Hallman.
The reason many students who are parents do not get their degrees is directly related to the challenge of balancing child care and schoolwork. 68 percent of mothers who attend community college spend an average of 30 hours a week caring in caring for their children; only 42 percent of fathers who are students do, says the report. Not surprisingly, the AAUW underscores that “caregiving responsibilities reduce the time student parents spend on homework or studying.”
Without access to childcare, many students who are mothers drop out of school. Students who are parents are also more likely to be from low-income backgrounds and therefore very likely have no choice but to work, not only to pay for college but to support their families.
Childcare Fundings Does Exist, But in Lessening Amounts
A federal grant program, Campus Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS), exists to help support students who are parents with childcare. While the program received a $25 million appropriation in 2001, it only received $16 million last year.
It is possible to fund child card sufficiently, as Raw Story points out. The report highlights Arkansas for its program, which provides child care at the state’s 22 community colleges as part of its Career Pathways Initiative. Each campus has one staff person specifically designated to assist students with child care. If students cannot find child care, referrals and vouchers are provided to help them.
How Can We Best Support Student Mothers?
Having a college degree certainly enhances career prospects and has been linked to higher earnings over a person’s lifespan. For students who are parents and already supporting a family, a college degree is more important than ever.
Along with providing more and adequate child care funding for students who are parents, we also need to focus on making colleges and universities be as supportive of students with children of their own as possible. Such support can be via grants and other kinds of funding but also through understanding about the need for flexibility in taking classes and completing coursework — about all the demands on a person’s time that being a parent, and a student, can make.
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