The University of Mississippi does not provide an on-campus daycare specifically meant to serve students with children during the time they spend in class.
According to a 2013 report from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, almost four million college students — roughly 25 percent of all undergraduate students — have dependents. The report also showed a decline in the availability of on-campus childcare. Only 55 percent of public four-year institutions and 47 percent of community colleges said they provide a childcare center on campus.
For senior accountancy major Brenna Nowell, a student-parent at the university, juggling school and being a mother can be challenging at times. However, Nowell said doing so is manageable with her support system, and she knows she is doing the best for her 2-year-old daughter, Presley, by attending Ole Miss.
“The hardest part is splitting my time between being a mother and student,” Nowell said. “I try to do as much of my homework as I can after she goes to bed at night, but going to class and doing some homework in the day is unavoidable. Although I know, in the long run, I’m doing what is best for her by getting a degree, it’s still hard, day-to-day.”
A typical day for Nowell begins with being awakened around 7 a.m. by either her alarm or Presley — whichever comes first. Nowell goes to school four days a week — two days in Oxford and two days in Desoto — while Presley stays with one of her grandmothers.
After school, Nowell said she goes home, plays with her daughter, eats dinner, runs errands or cleans, bathes Presley and puts her to sleep. Once Presley is in bed, Nowell stays up doing homework until 1 or 2 a.m., and the next day, she does it all over again.
Willie Price Lab School, the preschool on campus, is open to all families in the LOU community, though children have to be three or four years old to attend. Priority for enrollment is given to families affiliated with the university, and they receive a $100 discount, according to Alyce Krouse, the assistant director of Willie Price.
Though the Willie Price Lab School is on campus, Ole Miss does not have an on-campus daycare specifically for children of students, like some other universities have. Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Leslie Banahan said introducing an on-campus daycare has been discussed many times.
“That has been an issue that has been discussed for the last 20 years, and the university has done a lot of surveys to see what the interest is, if the need and demand is there and if it is financially feasible,” Banahan said.
Currently, the university has a parental leave policy in place for graduate students. The policy states that graduate students are eligible for six weeks of leave immediately following the birth or adoption of a child. The policy’s purpose is to allow graduate students to keep their full-time status and to create a smooth path for them as they return to classwork or teaching.
Director of the Office of College Programs Laura Antonow said it has been a goal of hers to find out how many students at the university have dependents, yet this goal has not been accomplished.
“I had hoped to track down this information as part of a childcare fellowship in which I am currently involved, but there is no comprehensive count that I’ve been able to track down,” Antonow said. “We’re going to initiate a survey to students to try to collect that information to better understand how many student-parents possible expanded campus-based childcare services might serve.”
Banahan said that though there are no resources specifically for student-parents, all students — regardless of whether they have a child or not — have access to resources such as the health center, career center, counseling center, campus recreation, the library, etc.
Nowell said the university and the Patterson School of Accountancy have been supportive of her situation.
“When I got pregnant, my freshman-year advisor and accounting advisor both worked with me to make a plan for my next year of education. The Office of Financial Aid, my professors and my current advisor have all been very helpful, as well,” Nowell said. “The faculty and staff of Ole Miss want their student(s) to succeed and will usually offer advice and help, if you just ask them for it.”
She recalled one time during the spring semester after her daughter was born in which she was getting overwhelmed and looking to go to community college because she thought that it would be less time-consuming and have an easier course load. She didn’t want to miss one of her daughter’s “firsts,” those things that no parents want to miss. But Nowell said her mother reminded her how blessed she was to attend Ole Miss, and she has not looked back since.
It is not unheard of for student-parents to take their child with them to class when they cannot find a sitter. There is no university policy that forbids students from bringing their children with them to class if they must, but Banahan said that discretion would be up to the faculty member directing the class.
“I don’t know of any policy that forbids bringing a child to class. That would be up to the faculty member and would depend on how old the child is and if (the child is) a disruption,” Banahan said. “I know there (have) been situations in the past where last-minute, a babysitter cancels and a (child) will sit in the back and color, play on their iPad — that sort of thing. But I think that has to be worked out between the student and faculty member.”
Nowell said if she could talk to a student going through a situation similar to hers, she would tell them becoming a mother while being a student has ended up being the best thing that has ever happened to her. She said that with a strong support system, juggling those two major responsibilities is not impossible.
“You’re going to need Jesus, your people, caffeine and the thought of your child to make it through long days, but you can do it,” Nowell said. “Becoming a mother while in college gave me purpose and motivation to work hard so that I can provide for Presley and, one day, teach her the value of a good education so (that) she’ll want to come to Ole Miss to better herself, too.”