According to an article published by the Washington Post, 40% of all college students in the US are over 25 years old. According to a snapshot by Universities Australia, in 2011, 24% of undergraduate students were 25 years old or over. All over the world, the number of mature students registering for post-secondary education is rising. A related side-effect of this is that the number of students who are also parents is rising, and that is something worth considering.
Precious few colleges and universities offer proper support for student parents. It students are lucky their campus might have a day care centre, but that’s usually about it. Traditionally, post-secondary institutions have been largely populated by young, unmarried kids whose priority is graduating, so perhaps the powers-that-be can be forgiven for not putting child care and other parenting issues on the agenda. But the changing face of the ‘average’ student means that while graduating is still (obviously) a priority, so are kids and family. Schools need to adapt to accommodate these changes.
Elisa Garcia cites surveys by Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Michigan, which found that access to adequate child care is of utmost importance to student parents, as they not only give parents the time they need to attend classes and complete assignments, but they also give them time to engage in part-time employment (if necessary). According to Garcia, studies have found that schools with child care services have lower drop-out rates than those without, especially among students from lower income groups – students who are disadvantaged at the best of times.
Child care at Australian universities
A lot of universities and TAFE institutes in Australia have recognised the need for on-campus child care facilities and have either partnered with external child care services or have created centres of their own.
For example: Monash University has arrangements with five child care centres near its Clayton, Caulfield, Gippsland and Peninsula campuses. Full-day care is available for children from three months to school age.
The University of South Australia has child care centres near all of its campuses in east and west Adelaide, Mawson Lakes, Magill, Whyalla, and Underdale. The full range of care is provided, including full-time and part-time care for infants to pre-school children, as well as after-school care.
Other universities that offer child care services include:
- Curtin University
- Griffith University
- University of the Sunshine Coast
- Australian National University
- Victoria University
- University of Western Australia
- Murdoch University
- University of Tasmania
- University of Sydney
It’s important to note that the spaces at these centres are limited, so you need to get yourself on the waiting list as soon as possible.
Child care aside
Aside from on-campus child care facilities, how else can student parents survive the post-secondary learning experience?
Bright Knowledge recommends that you let your tutor know about your personal situation. This isn’t so that you can get away with murder, but rather so that your tutor will understand if you have to cut a session 15 minutes short because the baby sitter didn’t pitch, or because you need to get home to a child with a fever and an upset tummy. If you’re lucky, your tutor will schedule catch-up sessions and may even intervene on your behalf if you start falling behind and the lecturer gets snippy.
Be organised. Marina Salsbury says that time management is one of the biggest problems student parents face. Drawing up a schedule for each day will make each day more manageable.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Eat properly, try get some exercise (even if it’s walking to class), and use that schedule to pen in some down time. Ask your mom, partner, or friend to babysit for a couple of hours and treat yourself to dinner and a movie, or a gallery opening, or some quiet time reading and feeding the ducks in the park. Make time for your friends and include your partner in some (not all) of these activities, so you can reconnect and keep your relationship healthy.
It sounds like a lot, but if you can master the schedule – and master sticking to the schedule as far as possible (we know that kids don’t always make it possible) – you may find it more manageable than you think.