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What are the unique challenges student parents face while attending college?

What are the unique challenges student parents face while attending college?

Traditional college students complete their college education during their “emerging adulthood” years, usually between the ages of 18 and 24. During this time, college students are facing assignments, experiencing the residence hall lifestyle, and, ideally, carefree of “adult” responsibilities. Some financial responsibilities a student faces may include a new laptop for class, course textbooks and materials, transportation, and perhaps groceries when the dining halls are closed. Financial responsibilities can be very stressful, and many students worry how they will pay for school and their monthly expenses. These concerns apply to many college students, regardless of their “traditional” college status. However, among these traditional college students, there is a group of “nontraditional” students whose financial responsibilities stretch past the average student.

Student parents face the financial stress of being a college student while providing for their family at the same time. According to Mark Lino, of all the costs that go into raising children, providing housing is the largest cost at 29%, followed by providing food and childcare. These expenses can change based on the age and number of children in the home.

Stress levels can vary based on the income level and number of parents in the home. A home with two children and two working parents has different financial needs than a house with one working parent, a student parent, and two children or even one student parent and two children. Of course, the number of children changes for each family, which changes the financial situation.

So, what challenges are faced by student parents? Some challenges include:

  • Due to different class times and children’s needs, scheduling work can be difficult or severely limited, which impacts the family’s monthly income, which lowers the amount of money available for bills, gas, food, etc.
  • Instead of living in a dorm room, student parents often need housing off-campus. This expense differs because off-campus housing often requires more money up front (security deposit, first and last month’s rent), possible credit checks, and consistent, on-time payments with little to no leniency for payment due dates.
  • Childcare expenses place additional stress and responsibility on the student parent. As highlighted in Chalkbeat, Child Aware of America reports Illinois is one of the least affordable states for childcare, costing $11,982 per year for a toddler to attend full time at a childcare center.
  • Student parents will need to grocery shop, considering groceries for themselves and their family, and may shop weekly or monthly, depending on what their budget and schedule allows.
  • Transportation becomes a necessity when taking children to childcare or school, working, grocery shopping, and attending classes. Car troubles can lead to significant financial stress and can take away from other needed finances, such as groceries or even the monthly rent.

There are more ways in which student parents can face unique financial challenges from their traditional student peers. If you are a student parent, what challenges have you faced, and how have you managed or overcome them?

For more information on financial education for all, including budgeting tips and ways to minimize your financial stress, please visit the Financial Wellness for College Students website.

Written by Jordyn Hayes, Eastern Illinois University student and University of Illinois Extension intern, Summer 2020. Reviewed by Chelsey Byers, Brooke Shrewsbury, and Kathy Sweedler, University of Illinois Extension.