Sunday, September 23, 2018 | ePaper

How to succeed as a student parent

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Alyssa Walker :
The Global Day of Parents is a day to celebrate parents and their selfless commitment to their children. Most parents work hard to help their children achieve an education, but what about their own academic achievements? Many parents want to earn a college or university degree so that they can best support their children in life and learning. If you're a parent who is also completing higher education, you're one of many 'invisible' student-parents working to complete their education and raise a family at the same time. Student-parents are more common than you think.
Experts estimate that about 26 percent of all undergraduate students-or 4.8 million-are raising dependent children while they're also attending school. That figure disproportionately skews toward women-they comprise about 70 percent of all student parents. About 44 percent of those women are raising their children without a partner.
What does this mean? It means that they're working really hard to balance family and school life, often on their own.  The biggest obstacle student parents face? Childcare. It's expensive. So is college. Many students wind up going into debt to pay for their degrees and child care.
A 2014 article in The Atlantic showed that female students with children had an average debt of $30,000, while their male counterparts with children had $26,000 in debt. Those numbers aren't too different from students without children.
With services like on-campus childcare, those numbers decrease. Why? Having that option gives more student parents the flexibility of taking their kids to daycare with them when they go to school.  Currently, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Nevada community colleges have on-campus childcare options, but other states vary widely.
What can student parents do to ensure their success at parenthood and at school? Here are a few tips.
1. Remember that you're not alone
Whether you realize it or not, there are more student parents on campus than you think. Where are they? They're really busy.  Raising kids, taking classes, and studying all take enormous amounts of time and energy. Four years ago, the University of Alabama developed a program to help student parents manage the heavy load. They offer childcare, advocacy services, and mentoring for students trying to bridge both worlds.
2. Get reliable childcare
We know, easier said than done, but this is your biggest barrier to success. Knowing that your kids are happy and safe while you're studying or in your classes will serve them - and you - well.  Many campuses now offer subsidized child care, or campus-based playgroups and daycare centers. If you can't find any information from your student services office, check your child care resource and referral office.
Keep in mind: you may also qualify for federal assistance if you need it.  
3. Tell friends, family, and your university
You will need help. You need to ask for it. Make sure your kids know that you're going to school to create a better life for them and you - and that you need to take classes and do homework. Tell your family and friends. Tell your academic advisor. You need to get the support you need in place and ready to go.
4. Select a school that has support programs
If there's a Student Parent Center or anything like it on the campus you want, go for it. Those centers help undergraduate student parents find university housing, connect with counseling, find child care, and manage course loads.
5. Set realistic expectations
Most colleges and universities set guidelines and expectations for childless undergraduates. Those students have a lot more time to spend on their studies than the average student parent.
Here's the idea: while you may have the same work ethic, you'll burn out faster if you try to keep up with them. Prospective employers don't want to see your grades-they want to see your degree. They want to know you worked hard.
Set achievable goals and you'll get there.
(Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family).

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