A look at Mason students who are also parents

Stigmas, guilt, and other challenges faced by these student parents everyday

Graphic by Billy Ferguson

Graphic by Billy Ferguson

By Dinanda Pramesti, Lifestyle Editor and Hailey Bullis, Staff Writer

Mason prides itself on being a diverse campus. However, there are some students who feel there are not enough resources for them or they do not feel represented. Lorena Sandoval, a senior and parent of two, shares that she does not feel the support coming from the Mason community for students who have children.

“In terms of being a traditional student, there’s so much support. You have to do this, do that, come to this or that. But in terms of being a student-parent, sometimes you can’t take your kids out to events.”  

As of Dec.15 of last year, there are a total of one thousand and thirty-eight students that claimed to have a child or other dependent on their accepted FAFSA according to the Department of Education.

CHALLENGES OF BEING A PARENT AND A STUDENT

Students who are also parents at Mason face both the challenges of being a student and the challenges of being a parent.The needs of these students are often different than that of a student without a child. The common needs of students with children were identified in a study done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). These needs ranged from housing and financial assistance to social support from other student-parents.The needs highlighted also included childcare.  

Sandoval feels there is a stigma attached to having a kid while attending school. “We feel a lot

of guilt being in college — you can’t be a good parent and a good student at the same time. If you are a good student and getting good grades, you’re neglecting your children. If you are a good parent that means you are neglecting your grades. A lot of times, I feel like that does come across from the faculty.”

Sandoval says she tries to talk to the professors. In one instance, she confronted her professor about needing to have her phone out because she has kids.

“[The professor] told me that we can not have our phones out and I told her that I needed to see if somebody is calling me — sometimes [my kids’] school calls me or my mom and she can’t pick them up,” she shares her frustration.

“After that, the professor did apologize several times the following weeks after that. I think she got a better perspective.” Sandoval says to talk to professors and start a conversation on campus, or it will be a difficult experience.   

Sandoval says that the childcare system at Mason does not take infants. “There has been cases where students at Mason get pregnant, and they live in the dorms, so you have to find a place to live. Second of all, you can’t take your kids to daycare there because they don’t have infant care. We’ve been pushing to have infant care. As of now, George Mason has the child care center, I don’t think it has expanded since ten years ago.”

Sandoval says a way for Mason to improve their child care center is to expand it. This will allow for more children, infants and child care assistance.

MASON’S CDC PROGRAM

The Child Development Center provides care for faculty, staff, and students children. However, the center’s cost for this care ranges from $1398 for five days to $1109 for the three day program for two-year-olds. For children in preschool, costs go up to $1173 for five days to $959 for 3 days for the 2017-2018 year.

There is also a waitlist at the Child Development Center, so even if a student-parent can afford to pay the cost of enrollment, they might still have to put their name on the waitlist until there is room available for their child.

“We have a childcare option available on campus, but the demand for those services well exceeds current availability, leaving many faculty, staff, and student parents to devise alternative plans. Given these constraints, there seems to be some energy around increasing availability of childcare services on-campus,” said Isaac Agbeshie-Noye, the Director of Orientation and Family Programs at Mason.

Isaac Agbeshie-Noye says otherwise, “At the moment, Mason offers a few resources that support students with children in the same ways that we support all students such as, Student Health Services, Student Support and Advocacy Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, Human Resources Work/Life Connections, and other units across campus offer a host of services centered around advocacy, healthcare, self-care, academic support, and peer connections that support students with children.”

However, he acknowledges that they have some opportunities to offer more services specifically catered to the student-parent population.

STUDENT PARENT GROUPS

According to Agbeshie-Noye, the Student-Parent Working Group is a collection of faculty, staff and students who have come together to discuss the experience of parenting and pregnant students at Mason. Through these conversations and research, the group is looking to understand current offerings, identify gaps in service, and propose recommendations and resources necessary to fill those gaps.

“The group is fairly new, but there are plans to leverage existing university resources to engage more students, as well as explore the data that we currently have to identify those needs. The organization was founded by a Mason student-parent to create a space or network where student-parents could come together to support each other. Lorena Sandoval has taken the lead on chartering the organization,” he replied.

Agbeshie-Noye thinks that the Student Parent Working Group is a step in the right direction. “I think that there are even more opportunities to increase the visibility and support of this student population by sharing information across departments and divisions to educate faculty, staff, and students about our parenting students, so I am looking forward to formalizing those channels more sustainably.”

STATISTICS ON STUDENT PARENTS

In their national and regional profile for college students with children, IWPR found that only 32.6 percent of student-parents complete their degree or certificate with six years, and if they are single parents that number drops to 26.7 percent.

The low graduation rates are explained by the lack of resources available on campuses nationally for student-parents exclusively. Mason offers resources that support all students such as Student Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Student Support and Advocacy Center to name a few, however, there are few resources exclusively catered to student parents.

Agbeshie-Noye believes that, “Mason is very responsive to student needs, so I appreciate that we have strong student voices that have helped us to have these conversations. Nationally, institutions are focusing more on the needs of this population as we continue to see more student parents pursuing higher education, so I think that we will see greater attention in this area moving forward.”

Agbeshie-Noye says that he and his colleagues remain committed to the success of all students, including student-parents, and look forward to learning more about their experiences on-campus.

Through students like Sandoval, Mason has launched student support groups such as the University Parents and the Student Parent Working Group student organizations.