College students work hard, but student parents work harder.
Ohio State’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion offers the ACCESS Collaborative, a program to support low-income undergraduate, graduate and professional student parents enrolled at Ohio State. Student parents can access housing assistance, child care, and scholarship and mentorship opportunities.
“We want to accommodate any student that is coming to us saying, ‘I need support to be able to finish my degree so that I can provide better for my family,’” Traci Lewis, director of the ACCESS Collaborative, said.
Lewis said there are three main barriers student parents face to education: affordable housing, child care and reliable transportation. Housing and child care are the most utilized services in ACCESS. The program also offers parenting classes, life skills workshops and professional development.
Naomi Lindsay, a third-year in social work, has a 6-year-old son and is part of the ACCESS Collaborative. She said one of the biggest benefits of the program is the sense of community she has developed with the other parents. She also utilizes the housing assistance program.
Lindsay said although the demands of work and school make her feel she misses out on time spent with her son, he motivated her to apply to and finish college.
“I had someone else who was looking up to me and who I want to set a good example for,” Lindsay said.
Jayda Jackson, a fourth-year in chemical engineering, was one month into her first semester at Penn State when she found out she was pregnant. She said she moved closer to home for family support and attended Bowling Green State University-Firelands for two years before transferring to Ohio State.
Once at Ohio State, Jackson lived in housing through the ACCESS Collaborative. She said that it’s challenging to raise her son two hours away from her family, and she struggled to adjust as a single parent in her first semester at Ohio State — earning lower grades than she’d hoped.
“My first two years of college, I always had my family nearby and I always had help,” Jackson said. “I could take my son somewhere when I needed to study or had big exams coming up.”
The next semester, Jackson said she started bringing her son to campus to play on his tablet while she worked in computer labs. Before long, she said she adjusted to the role of being a single parent and started earning A’s once again.
When Jackson originally applied to the chemical engineering major, she was not accepted. But then she reached out to the chair of the chemical and biomolecular engineering department to explain her circumstances.
“I explained what my life is on a single-day basis as a single parent. I just explained my story, and they ended up accepting me into the program,” Jackson said.
In addition to the resources offered by the ACCESS Collaborative, Ohio State hosts a mentorship program called College and High School Aspiring Mothers Partnership for Success. The program aims to show high school mothers and expecting mothers what it’s like to raise a child while in college.
Both Jackson and Lindsay have served as mentors to high school students in the CHAMPS program.
“When I found out I was pregnant, I always knew from the start that it was just going to be a harder process, but that I was still going to accomplish my dreams,” Jackson said. “So now, not only do I have somebody to do it for, but I can be a voice for all the other struggling parents and people who find out that they’re pregnant and feel like it’s the end.”
Day cares have opened since the original pandemic shutdown, albeit at a limited capacity. Lewis said some student parents still can’t access child care, meaning their children have to be home with them at all times. Parents with school-aged children are also tasked with homeschooling on top of keeping up with their own coursework.
“They’re becoming very Zoom fatigued,” Lewis said. “That’s just a typical student thing, being Zoom fatigued, so just imagine if you have to add on managing your child and making sure that they’re logging on and doing the things they’re supposed to be doing for school.”
Although the majority of students who participate in ACCESS are mothers, Lewis said the program is working to be more inclusive to student fathers as well.
“We are working to do some rebranding and make sure that we’re addressing all families, no matter how the family is made up,” Lewis said. “We’re looking at some different strategies to engage and support more dads in the program.”
In 2018, the program received a $1.4 million grant to provide child care to student parents. The grant allots money per semester per child. Students can apply on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website.
Read more about the experiences of single student parents here.