Midterms approaching. A five-month-old daughter with no caretaker for the day.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Wayne Hayer chose to bring his daughter to class.
His day turned into a viral story when his professor, Nathan Alexander, offered to hold little Assata during the lecture to give Hayer the ability to take notes on the upcoming exam.
It’s a heartwarming story of dedication and support.
But it’s also a reminder of the difficulties of pursuing education as a parent.
Five million students across the United States are also parents of dependent children. That’s 26 percent of the college population. But student parents are much less likely to complete their degree.
But however hard it is to do either of these things, doing both at the same time is another realm of difficulty – one that many face.
Two of the most significant obstacles posed by college and parenthood are the strains on time and money. These obstacles are not insurmountable. But they are present and should be taken into account when pursuing higher education as a parent.
Any sleep-deprived college student balancing three papers, two exams, and an internship on the side can tell you how valuable time is. The same can do any weary parent with a child who needs to be fed, schooled, and watched over.
Student parents are much more stretched for time than their childless peers. A study from the Journal of Higher Education found that for activities like schoolwork, sleeping, eating, and leisure, students with preschool-age children could only dedicate 10 hours a day, whereas other students had 21 hours.
Simultaneously studying and parenting requires a careful understanding of your obligations and strict scheduling. It may be prudent to consider part-time studies or online learning. Both allow more flexible planning that can work in tandem with parenthood.
Know your options, and do whatever is in your power to expand your options, whether that be reaching out to private childcare providers or family/friends that may be able to babysit. On-campus childcare is a service on the decline, and often even if it is offered, it can be highly competitive and sometimes unreliable. It’s also expensive. Which brings us to the next big obstacle.
In most states, the average yearly cost of childcare is higher than the average annual tuition at a four-year public college. Already strained for time, student parents must also consider how they’ll pay for education in addition to their living expenses.
Many college students hold jobs to pay for their studies. But for those who are already balancing childcare with their studies, this may not be feasible. Student parents often need the money more but have less time to devote to a job.
In an age where unpaid internships are gaining increasing popularity as a form of work experience, student parents are some of the many who simply can’t afford to put themselves in unpaid positions.
It puts these students in a difficult situation when they do not have the luxury of choosing a job for the work experience over its salary. The good news is that there are many scholarships available to parents pursuing an education.
The Child Care Access Means Parents in School program (CCAMPIS) is a popular form of federal aid for student parents offered at many schools across the U.S. It takes time to apply, yes, but the alleviated financial burden may be well worth it.
It can be hard to be part of a small and often overlooked population on the school’s campus.
Balancing the responsibilities of school and parenthood is all the more difficult when you have to fight for resources, time, and understanding from those around you.
Find a support system. It’ll look different for everyone. For some people, it will be family – parents who offer a roof over your head, aunts who offer to babysit, siblings who give you a ride to campus.
But as Wayne Hayer’s story shows, support can be found in a myriad of places. From friends and classmates to lecturers and advisors. As his professor said, “Community matters.” Many campuses offer support services and centers that may be able to help, whether it’s scheduling classes for the right times or getting the help on a paper that allows you to finish early and go home.
Some schools have specific programs for student parents, such as the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Life Scholars program, which provides not only funding but also guidance through one-
As such, programs and services for this group, like CCAMPIS, are not advertised nearly as well as they should be.
So, be vocal, too. Student parents are one of the most invisible populations on a college campus.
It can be an overwhelming pursuit, education, and children. But it can be a worthy one, too.
Although the difficulties compound when pursuing both, so do the rewards.
For parenthood and school, it’s not so much about the hardship as it is about joy. People commit to their education and their kids because even though the work is hard, the rewards are high. The relief of earning your degree, or the joy of securing a better life for your child, is worth the struggle.
Obstacles can be mitigated with research and planning. I won’t be so cliché as to say where there’s a will there’s a way, but commitment can take you a long way. Know that it will get hard, but know that you are capable.
Mugdha Gurram is a rising junior at Boston University studying International Relations. After graduating, she hopes to pursue a career in law. In addition to international and domestic politics, she is passionate about accessible education, including the ability of students of all backgrounds to pay for their education.