Student parents struggle with work, childcare and demands of higher ed

Published by Rachel Arceo on

Soon to-be-nursing program student, Amber Anderson, is one of several UCC students who juggle full-time work, full-time parenthood and rigorous coursework in pursuit of a fruitful career.
Rachel Arceo / The Mainstream

Juggling the demands of full-time college with the responsibilities of adulthood such as debt and health management can be difficult on a good day, but add parenthood to the mix, and the challenges can pile up quickly.

UCC students Lakia Burnside Atkinson, Chelsea Tilford, Jeremy Trullinger and Amber Anderson struggle with their own parenting responsibilities and their higher-ed journeys.

According to a 2021 report by Women’s Policy Research, one in five students in college is raising children while attending school; over 50% of those students are raising children under six. Students who parent statistically have higher drop-out rates, with notable challenges finding affordable child care, free time or financial stability. Despite these added difficulties, several UCC students still strive to maintain a balance between being a good parent and a good student in hopes of improving their future for themselves and their children.

Lakia Burnside Atkinson serves her community while she parents, learns

Human Services student, Lakia Burnside Atkinson, serves as UCC’s AmeriCorps Multicultural Resource Navigator and leads life-skills workshops and other events on campus to increase personal development and multicultural awareness while mitigating the cost of childcare.
Mason Ramirez / The Mainstream

Human Services and Addiction Studies student and mother of two, Lakia Burnside Atkinson can be found most days in her shared office in the student center. Burnside Atkinson serves as the AmeriCorps Resource Navigator at UCC. She applied for this position in large part due to the subsidized child care.

“AmeriCorps pays for all of my childcare at the moment, so my three-year-old can be in care while I serve,” Burnside Atkinson says. “Without having that opportunity, I would still be at home doing whatever online classes I could.”

Burnside Atkinson has attended school at UCC on and off since 2016, taking one to two classes at a time. Her daughter was six when she first started attending; at the time her grandfather was alive and helped with childcare, but that changed when he passed away.

“I had to re-identify my support networks to see how I could continue to do classes and grow myself,” Burnside Atkinson says.

Despite a necessary slower pace, Burnside Atkinson has done well at school and is considering a change from her certificate pathway program to a transfer degree. Still, she is not sure about the continued time commitment or continued search for child care.

Taking fewer classes over a longer period of time is common for parents in college. Nursing student Chelsea Tilford also took this approach at first.

Chelsea Tilford overcomes fear to follow dream of being a registered nurse

Nearly graduated nursing student, Chelsea Tilford, can be seen on campus early on weekday mornings dropping her daughter, Olivia, off at the childcare center on campus, Maple Corner Montessori.
The Mainstream

Second-year nursing student and mother to a six-year-old daughter, Chelsea Tilford wasn’t a full-time student before her nursing program required a full-time student schedule; she manages it for the sake of pursuing her life-long dream.

“I wanted to be a nurse since I was in seventh grade. It’s been a lifelong dream for me, but I was scared since everyone said it was so hard,” Tilford says.

After earning her CNA certificate and doing nursing prerequisites in her early twenties, she entered the workforce, putting her dream on hold. After Tilford married and then had her daughter, she re-examined her continuing education. 

“I didn’t want her growing up knowing her mother wanted to be a nurse but was too scared to do it,” Tilford says. “How can I tell her that she can do anything she puts her mind to, if I don’t follow my dreams, too? I wanted to be a good example for her.”

When Tilford’s daughter was two, she had all her previous credits transferred to UCC and has been working on her nursing degree for the past four years.

Tilford admits that trying to navigate being a full-time student, a full-time mom and work was too much for her, so she had to resign her job so her studies would not suffer. Consequently, the family has relied solely on the income of Tilford’s husband.

“My husband is definitely my rock. I couldn’t be where I am without him.”

“It took a team effort with family. When he’s working, my mother and father-in-law and my mom would do a lot of pick-up.“

Between her own hard work and help from her family, Tilford is walking the graduation line this year with her registered nursing degree and will be taking her licensing exam in July.

Jeremy Trullinger shows daughter a better way

First-year transfer student, Jeremy Trullinger, follows his passion for helping the homeless through his Human Services while making quality time for his youngest daughter.
The Mainstream

First-year transfer student Jeremy Trullinger understands wanting to be a good role model to his children.

“I want to be a better example for my baby daughter,” says Trullinger over the phone. 

Trullinger has four biological children but is the father of 12 mostly grown children. He currently has part-time custody of his two-year-old daughter who he cares for half of the week while he takes a full-time course load at UCC as a Human Services student, striving to earn an associate of applied science degree.

Trullinger recently celebrated seven years of sobriety and admits his other children were affected by his past. He wants to show his youngest a different way of being.

“We (parents) have to be the difference,” Trullinger says. “The time I spend with my daughter is just as important to me as it is to her.”

Finding the time to manage school work but still spend quality time with his baby girl is essential to Trullinger.

Navigating 13 credits and caring for his daughter for at least three days a week has been doable so far, but he admits summer may be a challenge. A changing school and work schedule may mean Trullinger may have to forgo overnight stays with his daughter, Ingrid.

“Time management is the hardest part of being in school as a parent,” Trullinger says. 

Amber Anderson works toward financial stability

Pre-nursing student and single mother of one gets to her Intro to Probability Statistics class right after dropping her son off at school.
Rachel Arceo / The Mainstream

Time-management issues are something second-year pre-nursing student Amber Anderson can relate to. Anderson returned to school after 12 years when she and her husband separated, while still working to support her son and herself.

”I continued to work full-time (sometimes more) and went back to school for the last 18 to 19 months as I knew it’d take more than just a minimum wage job to make it a single parent of a quickly growing boy, a mortgage, car payment, and necessary utilities,” Anderson said in an email.

Anderson admits it is hard to work 40-plus hours a week while attending school and parenting a young boy. She often operates with a high level of stress.

“Honestly, there are a lot of times where I feel so guilty for going to school while working full-time,” Anderson says. “It makes planning pretty much anything near impossible. I work harder to make time for my son and deep down hope that he doesn’t have resentment towards me for being as busy as I am.”

But she believes it’s all worth it.

”It’s hard work, but having your child look you in the eyes and tell you that they are so proud of you makes everything worth it,” Anderson says. “I keep in mind that he’s watching and learning from me, so if I maintain a positive attitude and good school-work balance, he will learn that as well.“

Burnside Atkinson and Anderson share advice with prospective student parents

“If you are thinking of coming back to school because you have a dream or aspiration, you should,” Burnside Atkinson says. “You never know if you don’t try.”

“Keep a positive attitude, start out with a few credits and move up from there,” Anderson says. “Make sure to be on top of applying for FAFSA, OSAC, UCC Foundation Scholarships. Also, remember to take time for you and breathe. It’s important to take time for you.“

Maple Corner Montessori: On-campus pre-school childcare, available to the public. UCC staff and students get a discount for preschool. UCC students and staff also get first priority on wait list.

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