There are 4.8 million of these students enrolled in universities across the U.S. They make up 26% of the undergraduate population, but only 28% complete their degree. Their presence on college campuses has increased by over 30% since 2004.
This group — student-parents — comprises over a fourth of undergraduate students in the country. Despite their increased enrollment in universities across the country, their unique challenges are systematically ignored, with more roadblocks added to their path with each passing year. The University is no exception to this unfortunate reality.
The University’s attendance policy, as outlined in Policy Statement 22, is a glaring example of the neglect student-parents and pregnant students face on campus. PS-22 does not list pregnancy-related conditions or illness of a dependent family member as valid excuses for absence, leaving these students at a steep disadvantage.
Due to this oversight, pregnant students and student-parents are often forced to share overly personal and often HIPAA privacy-protected information with professors to advocate for excused absence on their own behalf. Those who aren’t comfortable sharing the intimate details of their or their child’s life can face failing grades, delayed graduation or even forced withdrawal.
A mass communication senior at the University had a miscarriage in October 2018 during the first semester of her senior year. Because she felt uncomfortable advocating for excused pregnancy-related absence, she failed one of her courses and was forced to delay her graduation.
“I wasn’t sick, and that’s all the attendance policy excuses,” she said. “I felt like I’d failed on two fronts, as a pregnant person and as a student.”
Unfortunately, her story is not uncommon across the University’s campus. Mass communication sophomore Kerrell Robinson* has a 3-year-old son who he cares for while balancing classes at the University and an internship. He says he struggles to get professors, even those with children of their own, to understand when he’s forced to miss class when his son is sick or childcare falls through.
“If my son is sick and I’m the only one in charge of him at the moment, I have no other choice but to stay with him,” Robinson said. “Him being sick is the same as me being sick. If he’s out of commission, so am I.”
From 2004 to 2012, the number of student-parents enrolled in four-year institutions increased by 18% in the U.S. Despite the dramatic change in undergraduate population’s demographic in the past decade, PS-22 has not been updated since 2007. In the southeast region alone, student-parents now comprise 27.4% of the total undergraduate population. As the number of student-parents on campus increases, the University should proportionally increase the support and resources it provides to encourage their academic success and degree attainment.
The University administration often boasts of the school’s accomplishments and its superiority to peer institutions in the Southeastern Conference. When it comes to addressing the challenges student-parents face, however, the University falls behind most of its peers.
Texas A&M University’s university-wide attendance policy, which was last revised in 2014, is a model of an attendance policy that recognizes and seeks to accommodate some of the difficulties pregnant students and student-parents may face. The policy requires that instructors excuse student absences for reasons including illness of a dependent family member and pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions such as childbirth and miscarriage.
Because excused absences are at the discretion of individual professors, each semester is a new gamble for student-parents and pregnant students. While some teachers accommodate their students’ unique situations, many have syllabus policies that leave no room for the unpredictable nature of parenthood and pregnancy-related absence.
Fostering the success of student-parents is vitally important for mothers, fathers and their children. Mothers with a college degree are more likely to be employed, have insurance benefits and make higher wages. Additionally, the children of single mothers who earned a college degree are more likely to attend college themselves. Fostering success for student-parents is not simply a matter of improving the current reality, but of paving a better path for generations to come.
The stigma surrounding student-parents and pregnant students, particularly at the undergraduate level, is harsh enough as it is. By failing to validate the legitimate struggles these students face on a daily basis, the University only adds to their challenges and makes success less achievable.
We can no longer stand idly by while a fourth of the undergraduate population is discounted. If the University and its policies continue to disregard student-parents, we all suffer. Altering the attendance policy is the first step in fostering a campus environment conducive to success for all students.
Hannah Kleinpeter, Elise Armand, Lynne Bunch, Sarah Grobety, Delaney Wismans and Dena Winegeart are political communication seniors and founding members of Supporting Parents on Campus.
*Editor's note: Hannah Kleinpeter and Lynne Bunch are current employees of The Reveille. Kerrell Robinson, Sarah Grobety and Dena Winegeart are former employees of The Reveille.