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Many college students perform a difficult balancing act attending classes, studying, working and maybe finding time to attend a party or two. Kendra Allison and other students have one more big responsibility: parenting.
Allison, a 25-year-old native of Jackson, is the mother of 3-year-old Mariyah Scott. Allison received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Jackson State University in December 2013, a semester after giving birth. Currently, she is enrolled in the school’s master’s of social work program.
Like many student parents, Allison confronts two primary issues: adequate housing — on campus, if available — and affordable child care.
Thirty percent of the nearly 550 women enrolled in Mississippi community colleges who responded to a survey this year conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research indicated that their college careers were interrupted due to family care needs.
The number of student parents in the U.S. increased from 3.2 million in 1995 to 4.8 million in 2012, according to the Women’s Policy Research. However, as those numbers increase, on-campus child care centers are closing.
Between 2005 and 2015, states increasingly reported a declining rate of child care on community college campuses. The downward trend is concerning, the Women’s Policy Research report concludes, because of the large share of student parents enrolled in community colleges.
In Mississippi, 43 percent of the two- and four-year institutions of higher learning have on-campus child care centers. Neighboring states rank lower, with Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee ranging from 21 percent 40 percent. Louisiana is dramatically lower at 18 percent.
On-campus child care is crucial to student parents’ continued success, many educators say.
“When you don’t have services near your school, it hinders your progress,” says Dr. Latasha Hadley, director of the Lottie W. Thornton Early Childhood Center located on Jackson State University’s campus.
On-campus child care not only allows parents time to attend and study for classes, it also offers professional experience opportunities for students studying early childhood education. Many of those students are assigned to the centers for curriculum credits or service learning hours for graduation.
“Nationwide, university-based child care programs are closing because upper administration doesn’t understand why they exist,” says Hadley. “We exist because we provide a service to parents for our academic programs.”
While an exercise science major at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Kayenne Alves interned 20 hours a week while caring for her newborn son, Kealan James Russell, in 2014.
“It was like you were working for free,” says Alves. She did not have time to earn money outside a non-paid internship, which made it a challenge to afford a babysitter. Child care on campus wasn’t an option, either, because the Willie Price Lab School at the University of Mississippi only provides childcare services for 3- and 4-year old children.
Another common challenge mentioned by Alves and other mothers is breastfeeding. Lactation support groups, such one organized by students at Mississippi State University, are securing a number of private lactation rooms around campus to support nursing mothers.
On-campus housing options also have decreased for student parents.
Historically, two- and four-year institutions of higher learning have created family housing so that parents with dependent children can complete their degrees. In the 1950s and ’60s, for example, universities across the country received federal and state government loans to increase the number of dormitories to house military veterans returning to school with families.
The Village, 14 buildings that included 100-plus residents, was built in 1959 at the University of Mississippi. Over decades, with more modern housing options available around Oxford, occupancy declined. This summer, The Village had 30 occupied beds, and the housing units were closed altogether before the start of the fall semester.
“Before we decided to discontinue the facility, the interest in family housing decreased below 50 percent occupancy,” says Lionel Maten, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management and housing at Ole Miss. “The houses were built to last their cycle. A lot of them are aging.”
Inadequate campus housing was an issue for Kayla Clark. In 2013, Clark enrolled at Delta State University in Cleveland to pursue a bachelor’s degree in science in nursing, traveling five hours every weekend to and from her hometown of Pelahatchie in Rankin County to see her infant daughter, Faith Daniella Clark.
“Delta State still operates its family houses,” Clark says, “but … it isn’t up to par.”
Clark considered moving her daughter closer to school, but realized Faith Daniella would be most comfortable at home with her “maw maw” and “granny,” Clark’s mother and grandmother.
As schools in the state continue to close family housing and renovate the buildings for other purposes, student parents must find off-campus — and often more expensive — rental apartments and rental houses.
Kayenne Alves describes her education experience as tiring and stressful, but she was determined to work hard to create a better life for her son. Now a 9th-grade STEM teacher at Enterprise Attendance Center in Brookhaven, Alves tells her students that they can be “anything they work to be.”
Kayla Clark graduated this month and prepares to take the license exam to become a registered nurse. She has received at least three offers of employment. Kendra Allison is scheduled to earn a master’s in social work next spring. Meanwhile, Allison prepares to take the law school admission test to fulfill her dreams of becoming a family lawyer.
Many student parents attribute much of their success to family and friends at home, but there are others who also understood the challenges of being a student parent and helped them along the way as well.
“I have to accommodate (student parents) because when I see good teachers in the making I need to do whatever I can do while they are able to have that balance of getting their education while also being parents,” says Victoria Johnson, an adjunct professor in early literacy at Jackson State University.
Johnson has allowed students to bring their dependent children to class in case they could not find child care during her night class.
“I have held my students’ children while they were presenting,” says Johnson. “These things may seem like a nuisance to some, but to me it’s a part of helping students be all that they can be.”