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The Challenges Of Being A University Student And A Mom

3341 words - 13 pages

Within the growing number of women in higher education, there is a growing population of students who are also mothers. Mothers attempting to obtain a degree contend with home and family demands that affect their degree completion rates (Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Home, 1998). These postsecondary education students, unlike their traditional peers, are not developing into adult identities that are supported by a traditional college setting (Arnett, Ramos & Jensen, 2001; Arnett, 2000) but instead already have an adult identity as a mother (Wilsey, 2013) with a different set of needs and because of the familial responsibility motherhood brings with it these women are no longer “traditional” students (Cross, 1981; Bean & Metzer, 1985, 1987; Hazzard, 1993; Nora, Kraemer, & Itzen, 1997; Sundberg, 1997). Further, existing research on postsecondary education indicates that, for many nontraditional students, financial, social, and emotional complexities that accompany maintaining the roles of parent and student simultaneously can impair their abilities to obtain a degree and could lead to “stopping out” or “dropping out” of their postsecondary education (Bonham & Luckie, 1993; Des Jardins et al., 1999; Hoffer & Welch, 2006; Kerber, 2005; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991).

Moreover, precisely because these students also experience tension that exists between the roles of student and mother, as students are expected to treat their education as their primary focus in life (Levine, 1993) and mothers are expected to treat their motherhood as their primary focus in life (Johnston & Swanson, 2004; Douglas & Michaels, 2004; O’Reilly, 2004; Arendell, 2000; Garey, 1999; Hays, 1996) their experiences are marginalized. It is within this marginalization we may see that student mothers articulate important realizations about the complications of dual roles, possible solutions for these complications and their immediate concern as student mothers. It is through better understanding the student mother experiences and the types of institutional supports they may or may not need that we can assist them in becoming more active members of the academy, staying in postsecondary education versus “stopping out” or “dropping out” and decrease the marginalization they experience in the traditional model of the university.
Thus, the qualitative research study discussed in this paper was conducted in 2008-2009 and involved in-depth interviewing and a short survey. Furthermore, the sample that participated in this research study included 24 student mothers (ages 18-30) with children under the age of five, who are also enrolled part-time in undergraduate or graduate coursework (i.e., at least one class per semester). Mothers of children under five are unique because children within this age cohort are more dependent on their caregivers and are normally not in school full-time. Consequently, women’s motherhood responsibilities are less flexible than they might be in future years....

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