BYU provides resources for student mothers to overcome dropout rates

A woman sitting alone at a bus stop on BYU campus. Student mothers don’t have to face the challenges of parenting alone, BYU provides resources to help. (Photo courtesy of Olivia Tillotson.)

The BYU Director of Women’s Services and Resources, along with several student moms, shared the resources available to mothers on campus such as family study rooms, single parent scholarships and wellness consultations.

Data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) suggests more than one in five college students are parents. That means 4.8 million undergraduate students are raising at least one dependent child, with women making up 71% of the total student-parent population.

“It is a struggle,” MBA student and mother Katelyn Fagan said. “There is a lot of conflict between taking full advantage of this time as a student and being home and spending time with my children, dating my spouse and taking care of my home.”

While in school, Fagan has given birth to two sets of twins, taken care of her seven children, attained her undergraduate degree, entered a master’s program and started her own business, Home Cleaning Family. Her website features blog posts, brand collaborations and products for sale.

“Paying for childcare each month is a challenge,” Fagan said. “I take out student loans to cover childcare expenses.”

Fagan is not unique in this struggle. The IWPR study said many student mothers struggle with financially supporting a family and putting themselves through school. 

“Median debt among student parents enrolled in 2015-16 was more than two-and-a-half times higher than debt among students without children ($6,500 compared with $2,500, respectively),” the study said. It also indicated that “mothers, and especially single mothers, borrow more than other student parents and students without children.”

Dixie Sevison, the Director of Women’s Services and Resources at BYU, explained the measures the University has put up to combat those statistics.

Women’s Services and Resources offers scholarships for single parents among providing lots of other information about where they can find financial assistance,” Sevison said.

Research from the Urban Institute explains that what makes these numbers even more challenging to overcome is the fact that a lot of mothers are not aware of the financial aid resources available to them.

The research also shows that schools are often not giving parents information that could help them access untapped federal money to pay for child care. Two-thirds of schools on which the US Government Accountability Office reported did not mention on their websites that students could apply for more aid to help pay for child care.

The former president of the BYU Student Moms Club, Abi Wright, who graduated in 2022 with her bachelor’s in Communication Disorders, said there are countless challenges that make being a student mother difficult, but BYU provides resources that make it easier.

“There are so many resources available to student moms,” Wright said. “One of the most helpful resources I had was the government program called Women, Infant, and Children (WIC), who provide food and breastfeeding help to low-income families.”

Wright said her time as President of the Student Moms Club at BYU gave her a lot of insight and resources while she was a student parent.

“Money management, time management, child care, feeding schedules, illness, and travel situations all played a role in making college life absolutely insane with a child,” Wright said.

Wright admitted that one of her biggest challenges was having time to be with her child and still maintain her class schedule.

Wright needed three different family members and two friends to take turns watching her baby so she and her husband could attend their classes. “It was a nightmare trying to figure it all out,” she said.

28-year-old Lauren Lundstrom, who had her first child in the first semester of a three-year graduate school program when she was 24, experienced the same struggle with finding the time and child care options to keep up with school while mothering. 

“The hardest part came after my baby was born: the week of midterms,” Lundstrom said, reflecting on her time as a student mother. “We had four exams that week and I was supposed to have two weeks off of school with no penalties, but due to the circumstances I ended up having to take all four tests within the first week of having my baby.”

One thing Lundstrom said she wishes she had been able to experience as a student mother was virtual classes.

“My classes weren’t set up for virtual participation,” Lundstrom said. “When my son would get sick, I would have to decide to leave him at home or miss important classes and sometimes it was hard balancing his appointments with my weird schedule.”

Due to these struggles and many others, student mothers are far less likely to finish their degrees. The study published in the Journal of Higher Education found that college students with young children had significantly reduced chances of finishing their degrees due to the time shortages that being student parent brought.

Wright shared her experience at the Women’s Services and Resources in the Wilkinson Center.

“The ladies who greeted me when I showed up randomly were so sweet and super helpful,” Wright said. “They gave me stacks of fliers with activities around campus and showed me their wall of printouts with information on a million topics, like mental health help and nutrition information.”

Wright’s favorite resource is the family study room in the Harold B. Lee Library.

“They have the best space for letting kids play while you study, which is so nice,” Wright said. “We posted more details about all of those resources and so many more on our Facebook page — BYU Student Moms — and our Instagram page has a lot of them too.”

The goal of the BYU Student Moms Club is to provide resources and support for all mothers at BYU. They try to create a safe space for mothers to ask each other questions and find help on campus and online through their social media accounts, Wright said.

Sevison listed some more resources available to student mothers on campus.

“On the Women’s Services and Resources website, there is a map of all the Mothers Rooms and Changing Stations on campus,” Sevison said.

Sevison urged that the best advice she could give to student parents is to reach out for help.

“If you have a need, ask if there is a resource or help available for your situation,” Sevison said. “Remember, reaching out and asking for help is not a sign of weakness but instead a sign of being empowered.”

Fagan offered some advice that helped her as a student mother as well: establishing chores with her children and between her and her husband, getting a nanny and having peer advocates who were supportive of her made a huge difference, she said. 

Fagan attributes her success as a student mother to another source as well: her faith.

“Knowing that going back to school to get my MBA is indeed what God wants for me and my family has given me a tremendous amount of strength and vision,” Fagan said. “I trust Him to pull me through the crazy weeks of school and life.”

Lundstrom was also able to find her footing by reaching out to her family to get the support that she needed.

“I was really blessed to have my mom and dad watching my son,” Lundstrom said. “They would often send photos and I would try to video call sometimes to feel more connected with Gavin. I learned a lot about capabilities and that mothering can look different for everyone and that’s okay.”

Ultimately, each of these women have similar messages to share about their experience student parenting: it was hard but incredibly rewarding.

“To all the moms currently in school or who have a spouse in school, I hope you know you’re not alone,” Wright said. “There are so many of us and there are so many resources out there. You can do it. It truly does take a village and you don’t have to do it alone.”

BYU offers student mothers resources to lighten their burdens. Student parents, especially mothers, are at higher risk of dropping out of school. (Made in Canva by Olivia Tillotson)
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