Why Are Colleges So Ill-Equipped To Handle Pregnant And Parenting Students?

college campus

For my Master’s thesis, I interviewed five parenting students to see what type of support they had and what was lacking as they tried to balance work, school and family.

Three of the women said their GPA had suffered as a result of being pregnant. Not because they were suddenly stupider, but because they had been docked major class participation points for missing class due to late-term doctor’s appointments and a little thing like childbirth.

When I presented my findings to my thesis committee members, they nodded as if this was the most normal thing they had ever heard of.

“Well, you know this is in violation of Title IX,” I said, sharing with them the parenting and pregnant student “Bill of Rights” from the National Women’s Law Center. (If you don’t know what Title IX covers, get a quick overview here.)

“Oh,” was all they could say. They honestly didn’t know those absences were covered under a federal law and could not be superseded by an individual professor’s whims.

The entire time I was working on my thesis, I thought back to my own experiences as a student-parent. How I went to my professors at the beginning of the semester and assured them that I wouldn’t let a little thing like bringing life into the world distract me from being the best student I possibly could.

I set up a plan where I would have all my work done for the semester by Halloween, plenty of time for me to relax before my due date, November 12th. That was also the semester where I took Magazine Production & Design, where I had to produce an entire magazine: design the cover, fill it with content and advertisements. Sure, let’s do that in seven weeks instead of fifteen that everyone else had. Somehow that seemed like a good idea at the time.

My biggest focus was on maintaining my GPA so I didn’t lose my scholarship. It never occurred to me to ask for an extension or accommodations to work around the time I would need to take off after giving birth. I hobbled into class one week postpartum, stitches still aching from my emergency C-section, trying desperately to recall a few lectures so I could ace the exam. And I did. I had a 4.0 the rest of my time in school, thanks to my determination and support from friends and family.

But why didn’t that support include support from professors and administration? There were support services for so many populations—student-athletes, LGBT students, commuters—but to this day, student-parents looking for support come up short. I know I did. Chaunie did. Stephanie did.

It isn’t difficult (in my humble opinion) to support student-parents on their way to graduation. The biggest needs:

  • Childcare (doesn’t have to be on-campus childcare, although that’s great)
  • Lactation support (they have lacation rooms for employees – can students use them as well?)
  • Professors who understand Title IX and are understanding when things come up out of your control
  • Access to resources

Here’s a good start to supporting 90% of the student-parents on any campus—make faculty and staff knowledgeable about resources. Where can a student-parent go for information about Title IX so they can properly advocate for themselves? Where can they go to learn about WIC, child care vouchers or any other programs they might need? 

Typically, college students are adults, 18 and older. They have sex. (More than 70% of 19-year-olds have had sex at least once.) Should it be surprising when a student is pregnant? This is real life, as my friend Chaunie would say. Pregnancy is not some weird, rare disease no one’s ever heard of. It’s a natural part of life and biologically, the ages of 18-24 are the best ages to conceive. Of course, our society is not set up for early parenthood. Hell, it’s barely set up for parenthood at all. Nobody is getting through parenthood without a little sweat and tears. 

But truthfully? I look back on my time as a student-parent fondly. Was it stressful? Yes. Probably more than it should have been if I had known I had rights. But having an unplanned pregnancy in college changed my life in so many ways, some of which I am just now discovering seven years later. I’d hate for other women to feel like they’ve made a huge mistake when they go looking for support that just doesn’t exist yet.

Being a student-parent can absolutely be a difficult and emotional ride, but it’s not impossible. It can even be manageable, with the right support.

Did you have kids while in college? Were you able to find support on campus?



  1. I definitely share feelings with the moms you wrote about… I left the university I was attending after baby was born, because there was no child care available while I was in class. There actually was a center on campus, but it was only for children over 2, there were limited spots, and I would not be able to find a job in the evenings that paid enough to cover costs. We also had to find an apartment; I considered the dorms, but you can only live there while pregnant, and it was clearly written you could not live in student housing with a baby.

    Most of my professors were understanding, at least, and allowed extensions for some assignments when I explained my upcoming life changes.

  2. That’s an excellent thesis topic, can I ask what your major was?

    And girl if there’s anyone who relates, it’s definitely me! I had my baby mid-July of this year, smack dab in the middle of the summer session, and people were like o_O. But I told my professors at the very beggining of the semester that I was due mid July and they were actually very supportive in terms of giving me extensions to turn things in etc when/if I needed it. I learned during my first year of college that we need to communicate with our professors. If they don’t know we need help or an extra day or whatever it is… they can’t help us. Most of the time, in my experience, they are pretty understanding… majority of them are parents themselves.

    I had no idea about title x rights until recently, and I still don’t know the specifics, so I’ll check out that link.