By Lisa Brousseau Garcia
As children, we are often led to believe that life is broken down into clean, distinct stages. We are told that we will go to school, pursue a career, and start a family, in that order. However, life is rarely that simple, and for many, myself included, these life stages end up overlapping. I am a single mother, a student, and I work full time. And while my situation is rarely simple and certainly far from easy, the knowledge that a college degree will give both myself and my child the best possible chance at achieving a more secure future motivates me every day. However, I am far from a traditional student, and in order to achieve success, I need support that goes beyond what is offered in a traditional academic setting.
The unfortunate truth is that the odds are stacked against students like me. Less than 30 percent of single mothers who enrolled in higher education programs between 2003 and 2009 earned a degree within 6 years. Compare this to the nearly 60 percent of childless female students who received a degree within that same time period, and the disparity becomes very clear. The simple truth is, it’s exceptionally difficult to complete a degree program while simultaneously raising a child.
Single mothers enrolled in college face costs and time constraints that students without children simply do not have to account for. Childcare, which is a necessary expense for single mothers who wish to attend class, poses a significant financial burden. To offset this cost, along with other necessities like groceries and rent, many single mothers like me are forced to work full time in addition to making time for education. This compounds the intense time constraints that single mothers face, making it more difficult for us to focus on our studies. There are only a finite amount of hours in each day, and between caring for my child and working full time, there is seldom enough time left to focus on my studies.
This reality means that I and other non-traditional students like me often can’t rely only on the resources that are available to students on a more traditional track. Opportunities like faculty office hours or campus tutors seldom work with my unique schedule and, as a result, I often feel like I’m struggling to keep up with my course load. Students in my situation must be able to access academic support when their busy schedules allow it.
Thankfully, we live in a digital age, and I am able to level the playing field a bit by accessing and utilizing online supplemental learning platforms like Chegg. These platforms provide me with the support I need when I need it, and ensure that I can optimize my limited free time and take advantage of my academic experience despite the challenges I face.
Unfortunately, many academic institutions have been pushing back against the use of these education platforms. Some have even gone as far as to prohibit their use among those students who chose to seek their support. Limiting students from using these types of supplementary online resources achieves nothing other than making it harder for non-traditional students like me, who already have the odds stacked against them, to earn their degrees. Educators should embrace all students, regardless of their circumstances. And rather than discourage the use of online resources, I hope that they will instead recognize the challenges that some students are working to overcome and encourage us to utilize the tools that work best for our educational success.