Fiscal, housing difficulties challenge student-parents
Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series looking at students who continue their pregnancies and become parents while enrolled at the College. This article will examine finances, housing and child care.
Costs pile up quickly for new parents, especially for those who are still in school, struggling to support a child while taking classes and paying their college bills on time.
The average family with an income of less than $41,700 a year will spend about $9,000 on a child younger than two years old, with money needed for food, clothing, housing and diapers, according to the Center for Nutrition Policy Promotion.
Sara Clayton '00 and her husband Adam "Tex" Clayton '00 also had to pay their Dartmouth tuitions when they had their daughter Catherine in 1999. The couple recalled getting little help from the College's Financial Aid Office, which would have combined their parents' incomes when determining the couple's financial need -- a step, they said, that might have reduced Tex's financial aid package because of Sara's family's ability to pay her tuition.
By United States government standards, parenting students are considered independents and therefore may be eligible for Pell Grants awarded by the government to needy students in sums that range this year from $400 to $4,050. The grants do not need to be repaid.
According to Senior Associate Director of Financial Aid Beatrice Filimonov, the Financial Aid Office takes into account the cost of child care when recalculating students' financial aid packages. Financial Aid also directs student-parents to government programs that can help them meet their expenses.
"Increasing the student's cost of education above that of a single, dependent student living in campus housing increases financial need, which is generally met with additional grant assistance," Filimonov said.
Student-parents must also pay for housing outside College dorms, as they are not allowed to live with their children in the main residence halls on campus.
"The ORL, who is responsible for undergraduate housing, really doesn't have a lot to offer for those folks, and that's why that policy has been there. We work really hard with those students to try to find them [places to live]," Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman said.
According to the Office of Residential Life, students who are married, living with a dependent or in a College-recognized domestic partnership are not eligible for campus housing.
Redman added that the policy is meant to protect the majority of students who do not have kids, as well as student-parents, noting that students without children cannot prosper in an environment where a crying baby keeps them up at night or interrupts their studying, while a student parent cannot raise a child in an environment where rambunctious college students stay up late.
There is usually a division between married or coupled parents and single parents, Redman added. Those who want to raise the child together tend to be less interested in campus life and prefer off-campus apartments. Single parents, however, generally desire to be more connected to the campus environment.
"Some [parents] don't want to be part of the campus community, don't want to be living on campus and participating in clubs and whatnot. They want to be a mom or dad," Redman said. "Others are feeling that they really do want to have as much of the full Dartmouth community. The only difference in their lives is they happen to be a parent. That's the group of folks that will come to me. We desperately try to work with them to make them able to find housing in Hanover affordable and to make sure they have the experiences they want to have."
Redman added that students with children are given the option to forgo a meal plan.
Students with children are allowed to live in Sachem Village, an apartment complex located one-and-a-half miles from the main campus. Student-parents can also opt to live in the Parker faculty and staff apartment buildings near the East Wheelock residential cluster. ORL charges the students living in both locations the same rent as students living on campus and furnishes the apartments similarly to campus dormitories.
Redman said Residential Life staff attempt to find parenting students two-bedroom apartments so that children and their parents can each have their own rooms, along with enough extra space for a relative or friend who may visit to help care for the child. Redman said that the best he can offer a student, however, is a three-bedroom apartment, and that he cannot be much help to students with a large family, although this is rarely the case for undergraduates.
After students find their housing, they still face problems finding the resources they need to raise their children and balance full course loads. There are not many local day care options for parents, Director of the Center for Women and Gender Xenia Markowitt said.
The Dartmouth College Child Care Center only offers services to Dartmouth faculty and staff, a fact that has frustrated student-parents.
"It seemed ridiculous to us. How hard could it be to say that the three students who have kids could have access to this day care facility," Sara Clayton said, explaining her difficulty in finding sufficient care for her daughter Catherine, who sometimes, due to lack of child care, attended classes with her father Tex.
The Pregnancy and Parenting Resources Clearinghouse, a program sponsored by the Center for Women and Gender, helps direct students toward child care options. The PPRC also makes available other resources, such as parenting books, pediatric hospitals and counseling offices that offer low rates. Many of these resources are available on the organization's website.