As the pandemic winds down and more students are expected to return to class in the fall, many colleges have begun to phase out hybrid and distance learning options. While this may be a relief for some students looking forward to the traditional college experience, many non-traditional students dread the return. For student-parents like me, a return to in-person classes means a whole new set of challenges, given that our free mental and emotional capacity might already be stretched to its limits.
To return to physical classrooms, many of us need to find affordable and convenient childcare and extra time for household chores. Around 4.8 million students, more than a quarter of all undergraduate students are raising children. Nearly two-thirds of these student-parents say they face childcare challenges, making it concerning but not surprising that more than half of students’ parents have considered dropping out of school due to parental demands.
This excessive stress has harmful consequences, especially for student-parents like me. Whether taking classes in person or online, 43% of students with children feeling stressed all or most of the time, and an amazing 85% to worry about their mental health. Although higher education is stressful for students without children, the added pressure on student-parents can affect their ability to remember and retain information.
When cluttered with too many external factors, it can be difficult to learn new concepts. Stress is an especially potent inhibitor of our working memory, and for those of us who have to balance a degree, a family, and even a job, stress can be crippling.
In reality, studies show that student-parents tend to rank “financial worries,” “trouble finding your next meal,” and “lack of time for household care” among our other top concerns and challenges throughout our college careers. Working towards a degree and learning the concepts needed for a future job is hard enough, but when you’re sitting in class trying to plan your child’s next meal or figuring out how to pay tuition for your next class, mental and physical problems the toll can be immense.
This toll is backed by data. More … than one on three parents of students report having had multiple anxiety attacks, and a similar percentage report feeling extremely tired often or all the time. It’s no wonder that 58% of students with children admitted to seek mental health services on campus when only 37% of traditional students did the same.
While universities cannot support students in all aspects of their lives, they can ease the burden of non-traditional students who will be working on the brink if it means a degree and a chance for a better life for their family.
Maintaining access to online courses and resources is essential to this success. More than a third of parents of students express great interest in online meetings or platforms as well as childcare and more information on counseling or therapy sessions. Many of these services are already offered by universities and would just require additional marketing to ensure we are aware of what is available to us.
As a mother of two who works full time to support my family and allow me to go to school, my schedule is far from traditional. My finances are also getting tight, forcing me to save money where I can, which often means using online educational services to help offset the extreme cost of textbooks or taking time off to look for jobs. assistance from on-campus resources.
I, and student parents like me, are dedicated to our college careers. Despite the challenges of balancing school and children, student-parents would be better able to graduate and retain the information we need to learn if universities were flexible and willing to offer solutions that benefit our mental health and allow us to succeed. Higher education should consider maintaining the online infrastructure it has developed during the pandemic and encourage the use of online services to give parents more time to study on a schedule that minimizes stress and stress of their academic careers.
Camila Kaemmer Sabboch, 45, is a Doral resident and student parent who immigrated to the United States from Colombia and is pursuing her undergraduate studies at Florida International University.