Navigating College as a Parent


When you think of the average college student, parents aren’t the first thing to come to mind. 

In the United States, about 22% of undergraduate students are also parents. Students like Caroline Pressley and Chasity Reeder balance being a mother and a student with little help from university resources.

Reeder has four kids between the ages of 11 and 18 and is taking 13 credit hours this semester. She expects to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in history this May.

When she started college she had one child. 

“After I had my second child, it became completely impossible to keep up with my studies and have young children,” Reeder said. “I was unable to go back to school until my kids were old enough to be out of daycare and the older ones were old enough to care for the younger ones.” 

Reeder was also working part time, a job she quit during the pandemic because she and her children were attending school remotely. She now relies on student loans to make ends meet. 

“There’s absolutely no way I could afford daycare. Absolutely none,” Reeder said. “In my time being a single parent, I have completely structured my work schedule around what their school schedule was because I couldn’t afford to send that many children to daycare. I would have been working for a deficit.” 

The Resources for Pregnant and Parenting Students page of the Equal Opportunity Programs website lists resources for students who are parents or who are pregnant, such as lactation support on-campus. It also describes how federal law and university policy prohibit sex discrimination, including discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. 

The website also directs students to the Equal Opportunity Programs Office, the Student Disability Resource Center and the Pregnant and Parenting Advisory Council, with little guidance about how these resources can help parents. 

The Equal Opportunity Programs Office has since been renamed the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX. It's listed for parents who need accommodations from professors because of pregnancy or childbirth.

Caroline Pressley is a third-year social work major who has a six-month-old daughter, Kennedy. She remembers being pregnant and continuing her classes. 

“I kept all my teachers very in the loop so they all knew,” Pressley said. “But due to the amount of doctor’s appointments, I had a very hard time with some teachers getting it all excused. One teacher counted none of it as an excused absence, which is why I kept going to class after Kennedy was born.”

Exactly one week after her daughter was born, Pressley gave a presentation in person because a professor wouldn’t excuse her absence.  

The Student Disability Resource Center is available to accommodate students if their pregnancy or childbirth results in a disability. If no disability is involved, the center will refer the student to the Ombudsman office. 

When asked what resources the Ombudsman could provide student parents, an associate Ombuds for undergraduate admissions sent the link to the resources for pregnant and parenting students. 

Reeder and her children got COVID-19 at the beginning of this year. She was completely unaware of who at the university to reach out to for help.

“I had to drop a class because I had professors that were just completely unwilling to work with me,” Reeder said. “And I was most definitely on multiple levels in survival mode. So, you know, that’s definitely an issue because stuff like that can happen to people and it’s, you know, all the more challenging when school isn’t the only thing I’ve got going on.” 

The Pregnant and Parenting Advisory Council is described as a student organization on the Resources for Pregnant and Parenting students page of the Equal Opportunity Programs. 

However, the section describing this group does not provide a link to the organization even though the text says there is one. Also, it isn’t listed on GarnetGate like other student organizations at USC. 

Since Pressley learned of her pregnancy, she’s had to create a plan to continue school while caring for her daughter.

“She goes to her dad’s parents two days a week and I’m home with her five days a week,” Pressley said.

When Pressley told her academic advisor of her pregnancy, the advisor directed her to Bright Horizons at USC, a daycare center across the street from campus.

“I would probably take classes on more than two days a week. I guess it’d be a lot more money too,” Pressley said. 

The cost of monthly tuition for an infant at Bright Horizons is $1,230 or $1,164 for a parent affiliated with USC, which could be someone who is a student, faculty or staff. The difference in tuition for a working parent and a student parent is $66.

Some universities have garnered national attention for the accommodations they provide student parents. Wilson College is a small college in Pennsylvania that has a single parent scholar program. 

The single parent scholar program gives priority residential spaces to student parents with up to two children. The program even gives participants a college endowment that subsidizes the cost of childcare. 

USC provides support and community for college students who are veterans, students from different cultural backgrounds, students who are in recovery from drug addiction and almost every other need students on campus have. Yet, there is little support for student parents who are struggling to get their degree.

Even just bringing more attention to this small group of students could provide parents with the camaraderie they need to succeed on campus. 

“My kids are starting to get really upset, and they miss their mom and I feel really guilty,” Reeder said. “I sat them down and I was like, this is the final stretch guys, like, this summer, you know, mom will be all yours.”