Juggling parenthood with collegiate demands
College will probably always be seen as a rite of passage for young high school graduates, but the acceptance of the nontraditional students has grown. Even before the country’s recent economic troubles, many adults were going back to school.
Among the many forms of the non-traditional students are students who are also parents. The younger the child, the more responsibilities are split between studies, class and taking care of the child.
“There’s no way to tell how many students have kids because we never ask that question,” said Cynda Alexander, non-traditional student programs coordinator, who estimated that between 80-90 percent of the UALR student population would be considered nontraditional. Many of these students have families and children.
How do these students balance college with family life? The challenge is finding time to spend on studies while keeping parental obligations. Making sure that grades do not suffer while attention is directed elsewhere is a problem that all students have, but there is a different type of pressure when the distraction is a child.
“As a wife and mother, the crucial part of obtaining my degree was that of time organization and management,” said Kimberly Haywood, who earned her master’s degree while caring for her young twin boys.
Students with older kids might be more likely to return to school because their kids can take care of themselves and do not require the constant supervision younger children do, but even those students may feel guilty for spending so much time at school.
Having a support system in place, whether it is from a spouse at home, a grandparent or daycare services, is important. UALR does not provide day care services.
There is little time for students with children to take part in some of the more traditional college activities. Student organizations, Greek fraternities and parties younger students might deem important have very little impact on most parents in school.
Some may feel overwhelmed by the classroom responsibilities added to their already hectic lives and question the decision to return to school. For those who begin to feel that the grind just is not worth it, there is campus support available.
Non-Traditional Student Programs offer services to encourage students to remain committed to the pursuit of higher education. Students help other students in tutoring programs that NTSP Student Assistant Lizzie Eberoe said “get busy about a few weeks into each semester” when students finally admit they need help. “There are many students willing to tutor,” she said.
There are a number of reasons why students return to school after having kids. Some have been victims of layoffs or reductions in the workforce at long-time jobs. For them, returning to school was not a planned opportunity. Others find themselves in jobs that are either unfulfilling, low-paying or both and decide to seek a degree, which will lead to better job opportunities.
Many students have returned to school precisely because of their children, for whom they want to set an example. It might be difficult to tell a child that they should continue their education when the parent has not done so.
Many college students have at least part-time jobs, so there are always commitments that can make it challenging to excel in the classroom. The key to any student’s success is finding the right balance in the juggling act that college can be. Students who have kids have a few more balls in the air that they cannot afford to drop, but the end result can be that much more rewarding.
“The best part of obtaining my degree is not only did it boost my self-esteem and make me more marketable in my career,” Haywood said, ‘but it taught me life lessons to succeed in all my endeavors more efficiently and effectively.”