There are 4.8 million student-parents enrolled in universities across the U.S. They make up 26% of the undergraduate population, but only 28% complete their degree, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Mass communication seniors Elise Armand, Sarah Grobety, Hannah Kleinpeter*, Dena Winegeart* and Delaney Wismans and junior Lynne Bunch* founded Supporting Parents on Campus in their political communication capstone class with Manship Chair and professor Robert Mann.
The group’s mission is to work toward making the University a more accommodating and conducive environment for student-parents, pregnant students and students with pregnancy-related conditions to foster their success at the undergraduate and graduate level.
“I realized how big of a group this is on campus, not just at LSU but nationwide,” Armand said. “I think it is very important that LSU equips all students to succeed academically no matter what challenges they are facing.”
When the group began researching what unique obstacles student-parents and pregnant students face on campus, they found the University-wide attendance policy, outlined in Policy Statement 22, had a glaring deficiency.
Although the attendance policy states illness and serious family emergency are valid excuses for absence, it fails to list illness of a dependent family member or pregnancy-related conditions as excused absences.
“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,” student-parent and mass communication sophomore Kerrell Robinson* said in an interview with the group. “Him being sick is the same as me being sick. If he’s out of commission, so am I.”
Due to this oversight, pregnant students and student-parents are often forced to share overly personal and sometimes HIPAA privacy-protected information with professors to advocate for excused absence on their own behalf. Pregnant students and student-parents who are not comfortable sharing the intimate details of their or their child’s life can face failing grades, delayed graduation or even forced withdrawal.
The group advocates for professors to include the following in their syllabi as valid excuses for absence in addition to those stated in PS-22:
•Illness of a dependent family member
•Pregnancy (childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy and recovery therefrom) and related conditions for so long a period of time as is deemed medically necessary by the student’s physician
The group found other peer institutions, such as Texas A&M, University of South Carolina and Mississippi State University, have university-wide attendance policies that do include these in reasons for excused absences.
Because excused absences are up to the discretion of individual professors, the group decided the best place to start was by speaking directly with individual Manship professors. So far, they have the support of 20 Manship School of Mass Communication professors who pledged to adopt the proposed language into their syllabus and the number is growing.
Many of the professors have offered to speak about this in faculty meetings to spread awareness. They also have a professor willing to speak with Faculty Senate about the initiative.
“I think it was really smart to focus on one school and get almost the whole faculty on board. I hope it doesn’t die with them,” Mann said. “I hope another group will pick it up and try to spread it across campus.”
The group has corresponded with the University’s registrar’s office and they said they are drafting new language for PS-22, but do not have an official timeline. The University’s attendance policy has not been updated since 2007.
Through research, the group also found that if a single mother gets a college degree, it increases the likelihood her child will go to college. An increase in “positive parenting behaviors” shows improved outcomes for children. This is even when controlling for socioeconomic factors related to college access.
The group found that the most common reason a woman chooses to have an abortion is because of the interference with her work or education. That makes it imperative that institutions consider helping the 4.8 million students in the U.S. who are parents, including requiring professors to offer more flexibility on assignments and absences.
Armand, Bunch, Grobety, Kleinpeter, Winegeart and Wismans hope the group that takes over their initiative next semester continues to put pressure on the University to incorporate their proposed language and expedite the new draft.
*Editor’s Note: Lynne Bunch and Hannah Kleinpeter are current employees of The Reveille. Dena Winegeart and Kerrell Robinson are former employees.