Being a student is hard – a full class schedule, meetings with professors, on-campus commitments, hours of reading, and the stress of tests. But on top of all of that, imagine having a responsibility that has no winter breaks, no summer vacation, and no sick days – being a parent. Because approximately 14% of Illinois college students are parents, we need to invest in making it actually possible to be a good parent and a good student. The first step is to make sure our schools know who we are. How can they best serve us if they don’t know our struggles and our specific parenting needs?
I simply would not have been able to complete my bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois if I didn’t have access to affordable childcare. Growing up in an underserved community on the south side of Chicago, I had always known that I wanted to go to college but that paying for it would be a challenge. And when I became a new parent, I realized that I would have to pay for not only college tuition, which has skyrocketed in the last decade, but also for childcare so I could attend the classes I was so determined to take. I’m not the only one who has faced this dilemma: almost 60% of Illinois residents live in childcare deserts, meaning affordable childcare is even harder to find.
Yet, despite these circumstances, I am proud to say that I earned my degree! I received financial aid to enroll at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and I found an affordable childcare center near campus. I actually had time to focus on my classes without worrying about my daughter’s safety. And because of the low cost of childcare, I could spend more on my other expenses. My experience shows it is possible to juggle the tremendous number of responsibilities of being both a parent and a college student, but it requires support.
Student parents have unique needs that make affording college more difficult than it is for other students. National data shows that student parents are nearly twice as likely to leave college before graduating than students who are not parents, and leaving college without a degree is more common with single parents, community college student parents, and Black parents. The unfortunate thing is that we don’t know for sure if that’s the case here in Illinois.
We know some of the hardships student parents face, but it’s hard to design solutions without knowing who student parents are or where they attend school. Illinois colleges and universities collect little to no data on student parents. Collecting some basic data on student parents like myself would inform the design of specific support services, like the low-cost childcare center that allowed me to go to school and still care for my daughter.
In today’s economy, getting a college degree is the fastest track to getting a better job and gaining an economic foothold. For young parents looking to support themselves and their new families, having this opportunity is ever more important. So I ask our state legislators to let college be a sound investment, not a sacrifice, for young parents. I want a better future for myself and for my daughter, and I don’t think that is too much to ask.
LaKrista Cummings is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, where she studied sociology and African-American studies. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Policy Studies in Urban Education at University of Illinois at Chicago and is the proud mom of Audrey, 6, and Shaq Jr., 2.