Dear Lou Anna,
Imagine: The year is 1850, and you have just informed your parents you intend to go to college. You are a working class immigrant, living hand to mouth. You have shuffled from job to job, taking positions as a button-sewer, watch-maker and even family servant. Life has been rough, but you still have goals and aspirations. After all, that’s the American dream, isn’t it – to come to this country with nothing, and get an education, start a business, be successful.
So there you are, dream in hand, putting it all on the line. You want to go to college. Your mother sighs, your father grumbles, and both tell you that this is a ridiculous idea. “You will ruin your chances for marriage,” they say. “No one will want a wife who values education over a family.” As a woman, wanting to go to college is to challenge a social stigma. In the 1850s, women’s colleges existed, but only privileged, upper-class women went. Many people in society believed an educated woman would not be an asset to her family; she would lose her femininity, and be an ineffective mother. [DLA3]
Social norms have certainly come a long way since then. I doubt the students involved with Student Parents on a Mission (SPOM), who seek to raise money and offer support for student parents, would agree education and parenthood are like oil and water. MSU first admitted women in 1870, and the foremothers of women’s rights like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony would have beamed at the thought of a woman president, 137 years later. They would be proud of the educated women who balance careers and families. It’s likely our foremothers would have been pleasantly surprised, however, when they realized women can seek an education and be mothers at the same time. The events are no longer separate entities.
[andrea]You see, L.A., March is Women’s History Month, and it’s important to explore how the university handles women’s issues, specifically issues that face student parents. Being a college student is hard enough, with classes, jobs and extra-curricular activities, but being a college student as well as a parent adds a whole new dimension to the equation.
Even finding a place to live can be a difficult task for a student parent, L.A. Student parents can live in the apartments at Spartan Village, but those residences are mixed in with traditional college students. On one hand, it might be seen as inclusive – why would you separate student parents from the mix of undergrads? In reality, though, student parents simply have different lifestyles, according to Leann Harris, the administrative assistant at the Family Resource Center. We’re all familiar with apartment keggers and the all-nighters of finals week, L.A., but those activities aren’t all-encompassing. Student parents are forced to have a different sleep schedule, Harris said, and that often conflicts with the typical college life after dark.
“On campus, family housing is very expensive,” Harris explained. “We hear from students that it’s very small and very old.” There is not an abundance of student parents at MSU, and Harris believes the lack of optimal housing may be a contributing factor to the declining enrollment. Since student-parent housing is comparable to dorm cost, Harris said, most students decide to live off-campus. Apartments tend to be a little larger, more modern and much more affordable. Living on-campus simply isn’t practical for most student parents, L.A., and perhaps the university should work to fix that. “The number [of student families] has reduced dramatically, and it’s our office’s opinion the housing is not meeting the needs of the families,” Harris said. “If it did, there would be more families [on campus].”
Anthropology junior Minzy Winters had her daughter, Scarlet, last March while she was living in an off-campus apartment. Winters chose to live off-campus with Scarlet when she returned to school because it was cheaper.[leann]
Another major issue that faces student parents is day care, L.A., as many struggle to juggle school, work and watching their children. While there is Campus Day Care available at the Spartan Child Development Center, located near family housing in Spartan Village, Winters does not utilize it. Her and her boyfriend, Dave Hrynkiw, a communication junior at Lansing Community College (LCC), chose to forego enrolling Scarlet in day care this semester because of finances.
“I talked to somebody and they said there is a waiting list [for on-campus day care],” Winters said. She said it was just easier for her and Hrynkiw to schedule classes on opposite days so they could take turns watching Scarlet. The waiting list, Harris said, is quite lengthy, because the day care is open to all MSU students and staff. “Priority is given to families who already have one child enrolled,” she explained. “And it’s very expensive – even with a student discount.” [scar1]
College tuition is high for the average college student, L.A., and covering the additional cost of a child can be overwhelming. The Family Resource Center directs students towards scholarships that are more need-based, but the only scholarship specifically for student parents is for members of SPOM, Harris said. SPOM gets the money for the small scholarship, which is around $200 to $500, mainly from donations and fundraisers, Harris explained. There is also a child care grant included in financial aid, L.A., that students can apply for, at $1,000 per child per semester. As child care often costs around $12,000 a year, Harris estimates, $2,000 only cuts a small portion of a much larger expense.
Along with offering a scholarship, SPOM also serves as a support group, where student parents can meet others living similar lifestyles. SPOM, the Family Resource Center and the Women’s Resource Center frequently sponsor guest speakers to increase education and awareness about women and parent issues.
According to Harris, this university falls about in the middle of the road when it comes to helping non-traditional students. But, L.A., is the middle of the road really good enough? Couldn’t MSU give more attention to women’s issues, especially to those students who have families to care for?
It would be a good start to renovate student housing. L.A.; perhaps the university could take surveys of student parents and ask them what their needs are. You could make certain buildings for families only, so that not only can student parents network more easily, they don’t have to try to put their children to sleep while their neighbors are having Saturday night parties. Give student parents a place on campus to call home.[DLA1]
Also, how about establishing a student-parent scholarship to recognize them for balancing school and families? Student parents have so much to pay for, L.A., and so many additional responsibilities. We give scholarships to student-athletes, who excel in sports as well as in the classroom. We have scholarships for honors students, study abroad and hall government leaders. Being a student parent takes perseverance and quite a bit of gumption, and as a university leader, this hard work should be acknowledged, and student parents should be encouraged to keep pursuing their degrees. Why not award student parents who are so precariously balanced between home and the classroom?
Lou Anna, while I think the university is doing some great things for women and student parents, we should do more to no longer be in the “middle of the road.” Why couldn’t MSU be at the forefront of the student-parent frontier?