“How to Improve the Parenting Student's Scholastic Achievement

Lena Jackson

Dec. 16, 2006 

“Parenting college students are better college students than their traditional, childless counterparts because they have higher levels of motivation” 

There are many people, namely parents, who are in support of this claim. However, a larger question remains—can this claim be proven? After extensive research it has been concluded that there are no grounds for supporting such a statement. In fact, this statement is both biased and fallacious. Even though proof has yet to be unveiled that explains any possibility for the differences between the success rates of parenting students versus the success rates of traditional, childless students, an important area of study has been discovered. This area is that many parenting college students do need special attention to succeed in college and this is directly tied to the time consumption associated with child rearing. By delving into the areas of time management, stress management and the emotional and biological elements that encourage parents to succeed in college for their children, it can be seen that parents in college often have varying degrees of difficulty in school. If these three areas were improved, then parenting students would have the added advantage to provide one hundred percent of themselves to be better dedicated to their college endeavors.

So, instead of arguing that parenting college students are generally better students than traditional students, it shall be argued that by improving the areas of time management, stress management and improving the emotional element associated with child rearing, that the success rates of students who are parents could be improved to reach higher levels of scholastic achievement. This could be done through the implementation of university-wide development centers catered to the needs of parenting students. This center would not only deal specifically with issues of time and stress management; it would deal with the psychological and emotional elements that influence parenthood. It would likewise double as a childcare and advocacy program targeted towards enriching both the parents and children's college experience. Truly such a program would benefit all parties involved in tremendous ways.

Cinthia Tejada is a traditional full time college student currently attending Columbia University . She is a twenty year old junior majoring in psychology. She went straight to college after graduating from high school and she has not taken any time off from school, nor does she intend to. A typical day for Cinthia begins around 10 in the morning when she goes to her first class. She has a full load of classes throughout the day and she is in a number of organizations. She is in a sorority as well as her school's marching band. She resides in a dorm room that she shares with a roommate. Cinthia does not work, as all of her expenses are covered by a scholarship, financial aid, and a monthly allowance allotted by her parents. Cinthia's overall GPA is 3.8 and she is doing exceedingly well (Interview).

Likewise, Maria Taverez is a part-time student attending Hunter College in New York City, also majoring in psychology. Cinthia and Maria attended high school together, however, their senior years were quite different. While Cinthia planned for her new life as a Cornell undergraduate, Maria prepared for her life as new parent. Immediately after high school, Maria had a child and her plans to attend college were placed on hiatus. Instead of going to a large university immediately after high school, Maria was forced to take her first three semesters off to raise her child. She now works full time and she attends school at night. She is only considered an upper freshman because she attends school part time and cannot take a full load of courses. In addition, Maria is considering leaving school again to focus more on her employment. Her childcare expenses are very high and she has little time to devote to her studies. The time that she spends with her child is also scarce and limited. With little aid from her family or school, Maria does intend to leave school again for an unspecified amount of time (Interview).

These are two starkly different accounts of two real life college students. One is the account of a traditional student, the other an account of a parenting student. The differences in their experiences are not coincidental nor are they isolated incidents. Scenarios just as these occur often and the college experience for each student varies immensely (Corwin).

According to Webster's dictionary, a parent is defined as “a person who brings up and cares for another or “one that begets or brings forth offspring”. By contrast the term childless is an adjective referring to some one who has never produced children. These opposing terms help to categorize these two groups of people and explain their differences in the arena of their college experiences. When placed within an educational, context, each of these distinguished, separate bodies must undergo varying degrees of evolution to achieve their common goal: the undergraduate degree.

The United States Department of Education's Institute of Educational Sciences characterizes students who are parents as “non traditional”. Nontraditional students being defined as students who have “dependents other than a spouse (usually children, but sometimes others) or a student who “is a single parent (either not married or married but separated and has dependents)”. Also, “almost three fourths of undergraduates are in some way non-traditional”. An example is illustrated below by the following graph:

Figure 1.—Percentage of undergraduates with nontraditional characteristics: 1992–93 and 1999–2000

Percentage of undergraduates with nontraditional characteristics: 1992–93 and 1999–2000


SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, NCES. National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS: 2000).



This graph compares the years of 1992-93 and 1999-00 and indicates the steady increase of non-traditional, parenting students. And these numbers have continued to rise. This fact that the number of parenting college students is increasing indicates that this particular student body is motivated to achieve their collegiate goals and are bound towards success ( Institute of Educational Sciences ).

I often ask myself why do people go to such great lengths to attain a college education? And is it all really worth it? These individuals struggle through college, cramming for exams, writing lengthy term papers, studying and studying until they are pushed to their limits. They complete all of this hard work through strained effort to achieve a simple piece of paper—the diploma. Yet it is painfully obvious that this mere document has significance and value. To analyze and answer such questions the basic motivating factors behind the decision to enroll in college must be discussed (Davis, Elwood).

There are many variables that encourage individuals to pursue a college education. These reasons range from economic to social to personal or a joint combination of all three. Still there is one rationale that links all of these factors together. That rationale is the formation of a solid plan. According to Arthur Chickering in his book Education and Identity , there must be a plan of action when making the decision to attend college. “Development of purpose requires formulating plans for action and a set of priorities that integrate three major elements: (1) vocational and recreational interests, (2) pursuit of vocation, and (3) life-style issues including concerns for marriage and the family” (108). What this implies is that people do choose college to fulfill some grandiose purpose. But a larger fact still looms. There is a major difference between the reasons traditional college students pursue a college education and the motivating factors encouraging parenting students to remain in the college loop (Elwood).

To go into greater depth, there are given potential motives that foster the notion of college enrollment. These include career choices, personal choices, humanitarian reasons, going to college by default, attending college to meet the expectations of others, going to college to help the family financially and finally to improve self worth (Phinney 352). Hypothetically, if these seven notions were combined into one model along with Chickering's, it would be seen that traditional students and parenting students have contrasting motives for attending college. For example, a parent may want to go to school because they seek to obtain a better career as well as achieve financial stability to ensure the well being of there children. This is the case of Rachel Hanley, a current student at New York University . When asked what motivates her to attend college, she states, “ The financial aspects do outweigh the personal aspects due to the fact that I have a child and need to provide for her. I know I would be very motivated even if I did not have to provide for my daughter, however, knowing that I do, I can say with certainty that those financial aspects play a bigger role in motivating me to continue and do well” (Interview).

On the other hand, an average college student may want a degree to further enhance his or her personal knowledge and understanding or because they want to contribute positively to society or to give back in some way. For example, Danielle Stenberg, also a current student at NYU is not a parent. When asked why she attends college, she states, “My reasons for attending the university are really a combination of things, mostly personal. I have always enjoyed learning and being in school, but it is also a necessary step for my career goals and a sense of personal achievement” (Interview). When another traditional college student was asked, why they wanted to attend college, they said, “ I want to go to college to become a doctor, basically so I can make more money (Boyer 12). Hence the differences between these two groups is present and some of the proposed reasons that influence students to attend college are more geared towards parenting students while others are more geared towards childless students.

Equally important to motivational factors are the strategies that parenting students perpetuate when grappling with college life. “Despite the lack of study time and overall school time, 74 percent of single parent women reported high satisfaction in their academic performance, 25 percent reported moderate satisfaction and 1 percent reported low satisfaction” (Little 2). And in addition, “80 percent reported having a grade point average of 3.00 to 4.00 and above” (Little 2). Time management skills and or know-how may be an important element in measuring how well a parenting student will do in college. Time management is defined as “doing things more efficiently to gain control of your life” (Covey 12). A solid education “revolves around minutes, hours and days (USNEC 21). This statement means that time is very limited and must be organized wisely. This is especially true for parenting students who often juggle work, school and their families. And time itself often becomes “learning's warden” (USNEC 7). A lack of time appears to be the biggest problem that parenting students face.

An example of efficient time management/multitasking would be the case of Michael Morosco, a single parenting father and full time student. “When it comes to his homework, he sets time aside” (Little 2). Michael states, “I wake up at 4:30 in the morning, two hours before I have to wake up my daughter and do my homework.” “When I do not have her I spend most of my time at the library cranking out my homework.” (Little 2). “Students without children think they have long nights, lack of sleep and no personal time”, but this is all the more true for parents (Little 2). This example is evidence that students who are parents have great time management and multi-tasking abilities. But there is always room for improvement. Parenting students often work long hours at full time jobs, they are responsible for domestic duties such as cooking or cleaning and there are child related situations like childcare and sudden illness that are all juggled constantly. Imagining what a typical day in the life of Michael Morosco would be like we could visualize it as something like this:

•  Michael wakes up at 4:30am to complete his homework

•  At 6:30am he wakes up his child for school

•  While his child gets dressed, he review his homework, then the child's homework and simultaneously cooks breakfast

•  At 7:30am they are both dressed and have eaten breakfast, now Michael takes his child to school

•  He drops his child off by 7:45 and heads to the train to get to work for 9am

•  When he boards the train, he pulls out his homework assignment and reviews it

•  He arrives to work at 9am and works until 5pm

•  During his lunch break Michael studies

•  Michael goes to school from 5:30 pm until 9pm

•  At 9:30pm he picks up his daughter from the babysitter

•  They reach home by 9:45pm

•  He prepares his daughter for bed

•  He takes some time to relax and prepares for the next day

Childless college students often do not have this same degree of time-consuming responsibilities. The majority of traditional college students attend classes during the day and they often have more free time than parenting students do. Time management is important because “a methodical approach to your work helps to defuse potentially stressful situations” (Battison 26). In other words traditional college students often must meet different demands and have more time to focus on their studies than parenting students. Hence, the arts of multi-tasking and time management are being redefined by parenting students as illustrated by the hypothetical day-in-the-life-of Michael Morosco. If this area of development were enhanced then it would aid the overall performance rate of these students. A few techniques to help to better time manage are the creation of to-do lists, schedules and prioritization (Fry, Smith and Walker).

The ability to handle stress is also a major area requiring special attention when considering ways to improve the performance of parents in college Stress is defined as, “ a combination of physical, mental and emotional feelings that result from pressure, worry and anxiety” (Battison 6). And what a stressful environment the college experience is! This is true for both traditional and parenting students. However, parenting college students may feel more stressful pressures stemming directly from their familial responsibilities. For example, parents may feel combined academic, work-related and child related pressures (Lark, Peel). Teachers could be pressuring these students to be active and involved students. At the same time, this parenting student may have job demands such as mandatory overtime or work that must be taken home. And in addition there could be pressure from the children themselves who want to spend quality time with their parents and who, as children are emotionally needy. A combination of all of these pressures could amount to a substantial amount of stress. The parenting student must then discover a way to balance all of these needs and meet them head on. Overall, the improvement and management of stress will result in the general improvement of health and cognition (Cassidy).

Finally, there is an emotional/biological component that adds to the success of parenting students. Being a parent and possessing sole responsibility over another life is an experience unlike any other. Being a parent involves intimacy, selflessness and it involves the human emotion of overwhelming love (Canfield). The combination of these emotions can be encouragement in itself for parenting college students and their success levels. Furthermore there is a biological element that is often overlooked when considering the edge that parenting students could use to ensure their success. Based on Charles Darwin's idea of Survival of the Fittest or survival based on competition, it can be deduced that parents will excel more at the college level than students who are without children because they must ensure the endurance of their offspring. This endurance is dependent upon their ability to obtain a college degree. This idea proposes that parenting college students possess more strength genetically because inadequacies would result in the failure of their future generations' success (Cadman, Dennett, Wikepedia 1).

Finally, many parenting college students require special attention to succeed in college and this is tied directly to the fact that they have family responsibilities first, above anything else. Parents use their free will or “the belief that human behavior is not absolutely determined by external causes, but is the result of choices made by an act of will by the agent” (Carroll 81). In other words, parents make the conscientious decision to attend college and they also make the conscientious decision to succeed. It could also be argued that what we do is not caused by us, consciously, our actions just happen to us (Wegner Preface). In other words, there is an “illusion that one has done something that one has not really done” and outside forces such as your position in society, your economic status, your history so on and so forth play a larger role in determining whether or not you will succeed in college (Wegner 10, Komarovsky).

In stressing this notion it can be employed that parents are influenced by a combination of both of these philosophies. First parents make a choice to attend college to support their children. On the other hand, societal pressures to obtain a degree to demonstrate a certain amount of success in life are also employed. But how would parenting students satisfy these needs as well as cope with time management, stress management and the emotional element that is involved in parenting?

The solution is this: There should be special student-parent centered operations incorporated into all colleges and universities. Lack of adequate child care and general support are often cited as a setbacks for parents who want to attend college (Schipler 79). “Schools can increase chances for impoverished students if only they will modify their programs so as to grant greater status to the sub-cultural traditions those students represent (Biddle 13). Also, “If the undergraduate college cannot help students see beyond themselves and better understand the interdependent nature of our world, each new generation will remain ignorant, and its capacity to live confidently and responsibly will be dangerously diminished” (Boyer 282). This facility would include all of the basic childcare center elements such as space for the children, a solid curriculum, field trips and learning activities as well as feedback to the parents (Dischler, Kingsbury). First, these programs will be income based and they will be highly affordable. If the student has little or no income, then participation in the program will be free and will be scholarship based. If the parent has middle ranged or high income, then the fees would be adjusted accordingly. These should be based around teaching parenting student's effective time management strategies and the importance of time management. In addition, they should teach parents effective ways to handle stress and they should provide in depth awareness seminars focusing on the unique emotional and biological calling that all parents are instilled with when they become parents. Also, such a program should be a stepping-stone for parents—they should be including on-site day care facilities with round-the-clock services. In other words, it should be open 24 hours a day. If a parent needs to study or if they need to stay up late without the distraction of their children, the children will be able to stay over night at the facility. Also since, college schedules vary and traditional childcare is normally offered between the hours of 8am and 6pm, to reflect the hours of working people, this facility should emphasize and accommodate evening care for the many students who work during the day and attend school at night. Also, for those working parents who attend school at night, and often do not have time to cook nutritious meals, the center would have a restaurant on site specializing in providing full course meal. These would include breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not only would there be meals for the children, but free meals would offered to the parents.

There could also be a free transportation service offered to the parents to ensure that they arrive to classes punctually and safely. It would also be offered to them when classes are over as a means for them to return home with their children safely. Also, the transportation service could be used to pick up any school-aged children from their schools on weekdays. This would allow the parent additional time for themselves. Another important feature of this organization would be its educational curriculum for the children. This center would emphasize a system where the children are taught the importance of a college education. They would also be taught effective studying habits where they would learn how to read or study quietly while their parents concentrate on studying their school materials or complete homework assignments. This would not only be beneficial to the parents but also to the children as well. According to the Department of Labor Statistics, children who have parents that attend college are more likely to attend college themselves, thus resulting in generational upward mobility.

To summarize, if parenting college students had a sufficient means to improve their time management skills, to better handle stress and to recognize their emotional and biological influences caused by parenting, their success levels in college would soar. Parents possess high levels of motivation directly caused by the fact that they have children. Based on personal observations as well as researched observations, parenting college students have high levels of scholastic achievement and are generally successful. But self-improvement is always in order and doing better when one is doing well is not harmful. Parenting college students would benefit from the utopian idea of the child-student development center located at colleges and universities. In closing I chose the following poem, “Mother to Son”, written by Langston Hughes to complement this paper. It fosters the theme of encouragement for parenting college students. The mother is explaining to her son that she has not had an easy life. She has worked pressingly hard, but she still has not given up. She then imparts this information to her son and in turn tells him to never give up. Parenting college students could use this poem as a reminder that they have goals to accomplish and the outcome of these goals will affect another person's life—namely their child(ren). This poem is both meaningful and inspirational and it exemplifies the nature of any parent and the relationship that they have towards their children.

Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I'll tell you: Life for me ain't been no crystal stair. It's had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards all torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor --   Bare. But all the time I'se been a-climin' on, And reachin' landin's, And turnin' corners, And sometimes goin, in the dark Where there ain't been no light. So boy, don't you turn back. Don't you set down on the steps 'Cause you finds it's kinder hard. Don't you fall now -- For I'se still goin', honey, I'se still climbin' And Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.   (Gates and McKay)




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