Patrick E. Jackson, Kent State University
Virginia D. Jackson and Allyson Himmelright, University of Akron
Editor’s Note: The following article was developed from a presentation given at the NACADA Annual Conference in Orlando, October 2010.
A freshman arrives in the advising office to plan courses for the next semester. Before the usual business of advising commences, she compliments the cute baby picture on the advisor’s desk and then blurts out that she is pregnant. She has only told one other person. Her due date is a month into the next semester. What is the advisor’s response? What resources are available on campus that may be of use to this student? What advice can an advisor give to increase this pregnant student’s chance of success?
Brening, Dalve-Endres, and Patrick (2003) reported that the highest rate of unintended pregnancies were among college-age (18 to 25 year old) women. Among 20 to 24 year olds, 58.5 percent of pregnancies were reported as unintentional; among 18 and 19 year olds the unintended pregnancy spiked to 75 percent (Brening et al., 2003, p. 449). Parenting at an early age creates many barriers to educational attainment and typically leads to a future of devastating economic insecurity (Ward & Wolf-Wendel, 2004; Wright & Davis, 2008).
There is little research within the literature on the traditional college-aged student (18 to 24 year olds) who unintentionally becomes pregnant while in college. Traditional College-Aged Parenting Students (TCAPS) have gone unexamined and unnamed until recently. Conceivably, to be successful in college, TCAPS may require a high level of developmental guidance. Despite TCAPS’ increased need and heightened risk of educational failure, most institutions reclassify TCAPS as adult learners or non-traditional students because they have a dependent child. Developmentally, TCAPS are no more adult than other campus eighteen year olds who struggle to manage emotions, work through autonomy, develop purpose, and establish their identities.
For an advising guide developed at the University of Akron, academic advisors drew upon the research and programming focused on assisting adolescent parents in completing high school as well as accounts of older, parenting students attending college. Here we draw from that guide that focuses on creating a warm environment, provides a list of reliable campus resources, and makes recommendations for academic planning for TCAPS.
Tips for advising TCAPS:
Provide a Warm Welcome. Creating a welcoming environment is something that most advisors do naturally to build rapport and trust so that students feel comfortable disclosing information. A warm welcome starts with a firm handshake and eye contact. It may be helpful to have a “kid-friendly” office and reception area. Photos of children or artwork from children who have visited the advising office with their parents show a positive attitude toward parenting and children. A comfortable and “kid-friendly” environment may lead students to disclose a pregnancy or parenting responsibilities. Once information is shared advisors can assist with planning and highlight resource.
An advisor may be the first person to whom a student discloses her pregnancy. It is important that we prepare a response to such a disclosure before the situation arises. This can be a surprising announcement and preparation is helpful to avoid negative reactions. One approach may be to proclaim confidence that the student can still be successful and acknowledge that while the pregnancy is a challenge, the advisor and student can work through several issues together.
Make a Resource Guide. Advising offices are encouraged to develop a list of campus resources tailored to the needs of pregnant and parenting students that includes dependable, supportive, and thoughtful academic planning information. Advisors can begin developing a guide by contacting the departments most likely to have this information (e.g., counseling services, Women’s Studies, accessibility services, facilities operations/management for restroom accommodations, legal services, and campus daycare centers). Initial outreach inevitably leads to contact information for like-minded individuals. Organize resources and provide contact information in a user-friendly format that can be handed to students during advising appointments.
Share academic planning recommendations.
- Doctor’s orders first.Encourage students to keep their doctor’s orders as their top priority. For example, bed rest can alter the most carefully laid plans, but health and safety come first.
- Promote early and continual contact with instructors. Students should create an email contact group of instructors, the advisor, and other frequent contacts to keep everyone up-to-date.
- Map out the semester. It’s important that pregnant and parenting students map out a plan for the academic term after they received their syllabi. This will help pregnant students plan around their due dates.
- Time management is crucial. Talk to pregnant and parenting students about making the most of even small amounts of time spread throughout the day.
- Think through course selection. Consider the appropriateness of courses suggested to pregnant students. Consult academic departments regarding any concerns with coursework expectations (e.g., physical education classes or chemistry labs). Attendance and credit load can affect access to health insurance.
- Back-up plan, back-up plan, back-up plan. Help students think through back-up transportation and childcare options before classes start. Assist students with anticipating and preparing for the many challenges that may arise during the semester.
- Complete extra credit as soon as possible. Encourage students who are pregnant to complete extra credit opportunities before the baby is born. This can give a cushion to parenting students when unexpected events arise.
Advisors have an opportunity to dramatically increase pregnant and parenting students’ chances of academic success, retention, and persistence. Disclosure can be a chance to think through academic options, plan success strategies, and help connect students to available resources. Preparation for advising a pregnant or parenting student will help advisors respond supportively and provide needed tools to help parenting students successfully navigate the dual roles of being a student and parent.
Patrick E. Jackson
Kent State University
Virginia D. Jackson
University of Akron
University of Akron
Brening, R. K., Dalve-Endres, A. M., & Patrick, K. (2003). Emergency contraception pills (ECPs): current trends in United States college health centers. Contraception, 67, 449–456.
National Center for Education Statistics (2002). Nontraditional students. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002025.pdf
Ward, K. and Wolf-Wendel, L. (2004). Academic motherhood: Managing complex roles in research Universities. The Review of Higher Education, 27(2), 233–257.
Wright, P. A. and Davis, A. A. (2008). Adolescent parenthood through educators’ eyes: Perceptions of worries and provision of support. Urban Education, 43(6), 671-695.
Cite this article using APA style as: Jackson, P.E., Jackson, V.D., & Himmelright, A. (2011, December). "I had a c-section" replaces "my grandmother died" as today's excuse for missing class. Academic Advising Today, 34(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]