LU’s Pro-Life Club introduces new legislation to support student parents.
Liberty University student Amy Sharp works a full-time job while attending undergraduate classes twice a week. She is also a student parent, meaning she goes to college while simultaneously raising her child.
Sharp, 20, got pregnant during her freshman year of college and married soon after, but never took a semester off school. Because her family is in Arkansas, she has had to rely on local friends for assistance with things like childcare and juggling classes.
“If we were just doing this ourselves, I probably wouldn’t still be in school,” Sharp said. “So it’s just this support system, and the friends who have become our family (are) really what’s made this all doable and enjoyable.”
According to a study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, student parents comprise 26 percent of undergraduate college students nationally. However, the study showed dependent students without children are twice as likely to graduate in six years as student parents.
Blue Ridge Pregnancy Center’s Executive Director Susan Campbell said the top three reasons a college student would want to abort an unexpected pregnancy are shame, finances and the fear that a child will prevent them from pursuing higher education.
“They think their life is over, that nobody’s going to support them,” Campbell said. “And that this (pregnancy) is really going to throw a wrench into their goals and dreams as a college student.”
Kyle Eisenhuth, a business communications senior and president of the pro-life club at Liberty often works with student parents to help them receive the assistance they need. Liberty has many systems in place for students who get pregnant, but Eisenhuth said once the children are born many of those support systems are no longer applicable for parents.
“We have three moms who are in the club right now, they’re all married, and two of them are looking at moving back home over the summer, just because they need the support system,” Eisenhuth said.
Eisenhuth is working to pass a bill through the Student Government Association to help parents enrolled at Liberty by allowing them to register for classes early.
For many student parents, by the time they can register for classes the most convenient or affordable daycares no longer have spots available for their children. The new bill would make it easier for parents of children younger than school age to plan their class schedule ahead of time, which in turn may help them plan for things like affordable childcare.
“When you actually talk to parenting students and what’s their biggest obstacle to continuing education, it’s finding reliable childcare,” Eisenhuth said. “Because they can’t go to the class if they don’t have anyone to watch their (child).”
Campbell said having support systems in place for after the child is born is important, especially for unwed mothers.
“Just having a cheerleader or a support person or a boyfriend that actually tells you, ‘I’m there for you’… is really all the girl needs to hear,” Campbell said.
Sharp said time management and finances are two major struggles she faces as a student parent. Figuring out childcare has been a challenge for Sharp, but the pro-life club and local friends have stepped in to help Sharp and her husband.
“I have this one friend, Kristen, and every time she baby-sits, she does the dishes,” Sharp said. “For somebody who doesn’t have kids it doesn’t seem like a huge deal… but to a parent it’s like ‘can you live with me forever?’”
With the help of various scholarships and the assistance of an academic adviser, Sharp said she has been able to structure her classes around her daughter’s daycare schedule, but it has not been easy.
“While our education is important and stuff, it almost isn’t worth it if you can’t afford it on top of tuition and paying for daycare,” Sharp said. “So being able to have early registration for class helps because we can get those classes that we need in order to pay the same amount or less in daycare and possibly even be able to pick up extra hours at work.”
According to Eisenhuth, the number of student parents on Liberty’s campus is much lower than the national average, but the need for enrollment assistance is still important, especially since Liberty is a pro-life campus.
“College campuses should be a place where it’s easier to choose life than it is to choose abortion,” Eisenhuth said. “And that means properly supporting people who have become parents.”
Eisenhuth proposed the bill for early enrollment to the student government committee March 18, where it passed unanimously. The bill must still go through several levels of approval before it can officially be enacted, but Eisenhuth is hopeful that this will open up more opportunities to help student parents.
“I think that we should be in the business of helping women,” Eisenhuth said. “If they decide they want a career, then we should make sure they have every opportunity. I don’t believe in handouts, but I believe in making sure people have the opportunity.”
For now, the pro-life club is focused on early enrollment for parents as the first step toward helping this demographic succeed in school. Eventually, Eisenhuth said he would love to have a childcare facility on Liberty’s campus, which would further help with time management and financial burdens on these students.
Sharp wishes the administration would take a stronger stance on helping student parents, but she says the pro-life club has been a huge support as she navigates life as a wife and mother, college student and job-holder.
“(The pro-life club) want to help make it easier for me to make this decision and just easier to be a parent and do school at the same time,” Sharp said. “Because you shouldn’t have to choose … between your education and being a parent.”