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Studying for Two: The Life of Student Parents

Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 17:10

Backpack Student Parent

Adam Moreno

Leah Valenzuela and her son, Adrian.


The stereotypical college student is young, carefree and crazy; someone who doesn’t care about the past has no understanding the future and lives in the moment.

Responsibilities don’t exist. Life is awesome. It’s all about you, your classes, your friends and your goals.

It must be nice, but it isn’t a realistic stereotype anymore. Anyone can be a student, even a parent.

According to the Institute of Women’s College Research (IWCR), there are approximately 3.9 million undergraduate students who are parents, which accounts for just less than a quarter of the 17.9 million undergrads in the US. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that 48 percent of community college students have been or gotten someone pregnant.

For any college undergrad, balancing homework, a social life and occasionally a job is stressful enough. Now add being responsible for someone else’s life. That’s a tall task.

Kris Bliss is the supervisor at the Children’s Center on the Mesa Community College campus. Most the children at her facility have parents who attend MCC, so she deals with student parents daily and knows the troubles they encounter in life.

“Student parents have an extra burden compared to more traditional students. Not only do they have to complete the same homework and assignments, they also have to be concerned about their children and care for them,” Bliss said. “This can have a huge impact on their ability to complete their educational goals.”

While many college students find it tough to balancing their schedule, it is even more difficult for a parent.

“Time is always an issue for student parents, whether it's finding time to complete assignments, guilt for not spending enough time with their children or finding time to work,” Bliss said. “It can be very stressful.”

Even though Bliss sees students with kids on a daily basis, the way they balance their lives never seizes to amaze her.

“Being a parent is one of the most difficult and simultaneously most rewarding jobs in the world, in my opinion,” she said. “Going to school particularly full time or in a demanding field such as nursing while raising a small child is no small feat. It is amazingly difficult.”

Bliss said that if parents stay on task and organize their time well, they can “retain their sanity.” Also, she explained that for a student parent to succeed, he or she must have a goal.

“I think for most of them, they realize that it will only be this way for a short period of time,” Bliss said. “They keep the light at the end of the tunnel in the fore. They keep their end goal in mind – the college degree or certificate.”

It is no secret that a college degree usually leads to more money and a more successful career, but it also provides a better life for a child.

A CollegeBoard.org poll collected data that a kid aged 3 to 5 in 2007 was twice more likely to perform better in school and have more involved parents if his or her parents held a bachelor’s degree than solely graduated from high school.

“For many of these students they are completing their degree to have a better life for themselves or their children and they are also setting excellent examples for their children” Bliss said. “Most of them realize this and are motivated by this alone.”

MesaCommunity Collegestudent Rachel Masser is an example of one such parent.

Masser can remember the very moment when her now 4-year-old daughter, Kimber, inspired her. 

“It was during the first moments of her life that I looked into her sweet innocent eyes and knew that I would do anything in my power to protect and care for her like she deserved,” Masser said.

When Kimber was 1 year old, Masser started taking night classes toward her dietetics degree. Kimber’s father, Masser’s live-in partner of 10 years, watched their daughter when she was away.

Even with the help of a partner, free time is hard to come by for Masser. However, she manages a strict schedule for balance.

“For me, I want to spend as much time with my daughter as I can,” she said. “These are times that I will never be able to get back with her. At the same time, I have other obligations with school, a home to maintain, and my mental and physical health. I have to have a very tight routine to maintain all of these things, as they are all very important to me.”

As a result, Masser explained that being a student parent renders her social life nonexistent.

“The only social times I get are at school with my peers and at the gym with some moms I have become pretty close with,” Masser said. “I don’t really see them outside of school or the gym, but it is nice to at least socialize a bit about classes and home life.”

Masser does not have time to work, so her partner, who is finishing up paramedic school, works as a part-time bartender.

Needless to say, money is tight.

“Over the past four years, I have had several mini episodes of overwhelming thoughts about finances and have come very close to getting a job,” Masser said. “It gets tiring living on such a strict budget and not being able to buy things that I want or that my family wants. However, after my mini ‘breakdowns,’ I would always come to the conclusion that money can’t buy happiness.

As long as the bills are getting paid, there is food on the table, clothes on our backs, and a means to get to school, the gym, and work, life is actually pretty good. […] When it comes down to it, spending even one extra minute with my daughter and family is worth more than any possession I could ever own.”

Even though things seem tough now, Masser said it will be worth it in the end.

“I think that things are uncomfortable right now, but without being uncomfortable I will not grow,” she said. “And although things are tough at times, I really enjoy my life.”

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