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Special Column: The Rights Of Student Parents

by Mikeni Lopez and Morgan Finn

Pregnant and parent-students are often forced to choose between their education and providing for their children. This choice is imposed upon students because many of them lack the resources necessary for sustenance.

Welfare programs don’t go far enough because parents must work in order to receive assistance. The requirement of childcare makes such a situation economically difficult, which results in material deprivation for these students.

This makes paying bills for these families so difficult that parents must use money for one bill in order to pay another bill. This situation creates a vicious cycle and, for many parents, the struggle borders on futility.

It is both immoral and illegal for pregnant and parenting students to be so vulnerable to such hardship. In 1972, Title IX of Education Amendments was written into law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in all educational programs that the government funds. The architects behind Title IX were aware that women are disproportionately affected due to the burden of pregnancy and child-rearing, which still falls mainly on women in our society.

For many parenting students, this federal civil rights law was a blessing because it said that the  government must support them in completing their education.

For pregnant students, this long overdue law helped challenge the stereotype that women are more interested in domesticity than advancing their educational and professional careers. Before Title IX became law, women often felt the need to dropout of school if they became pregnant. Despite the introduction of this law this pattern continues today.

According to a 2010 study, “Diploma Attainment Among Teen Mothers,” cited in Child Trends Fact Sheet, “Young women who had been teen mothers were less likely than other young women to earn a high school diploma by the age of 22.”

In fact, only 51 percent of women who had given birth in their teens received a high school diploma by the age of 22, compared to the 89 percent of women who hadn’t given birth as teens.

These young women have lost because many high school programs, and society at large, refuse to nurture their academic growth and curiosity.

High schools are not the only educational institutions that will deny women their rights as a parent pursuing an education. Many colleges also create obstacles. According to The National Campaign, less than 2 percent of teen mothers that have children before the age of 18 receive a college degree. Moreover, “61 percent of women who have children after enrolling in community college [are unable] to finish their degree.”

In today’s job market, having a degree of some sort is essential. A report written by Georgetown University found that, by the year 2020, nearly 65 percent of all jobs will require an associate’s degree or higher.

Women unable to complete college will have access to only 36 percent of jobs, while those who dropout before they graduate high school will have access to only 12 percent. Not only are they less likely to be employed, but their earning potential becomes severely diminished.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2012 that the lifetime income for a bachelor’s degree holder was $2,422,000, while a high school dropout’s lifetime income was $1,099,000. This difference of over one-million dollars has a significant impact on women and those dependent on them. Greater financial stability creates better opportunities for women, their children and society as a whole.

Parenting and pregnancy should not signify the end of a woman’s educational career. However, many students are ill-informed on their rights.

In 2012, the National Women’s Law Center released a Title IX fact sheet for pregnant and parenting students, in which they answered frequently asked questions and provided a guide to help the students see whether or not their school is in violation of Title IX. These are some of the rights pregnant and parenting students must indulge*:

  • Schools must excuse absences due to pregnancy or any related conditions for as long as your doctor says it is necessary for you to be absent
  • Schools can’t terminate or reduce any scholarship(s) based on pregnancy

Those who are opposed to provide funding for the support of pregnant and parenting students fail to recognize the long-lasting impact of above mentioned policies. Any temporary financial savings will most likely result in more impoverished families, incurring greater costs to society.

Title IX protections should be provided in ways that more effectively ensure the completion of educational goals. Society should demand that educational institutions look to the spirit of the law, not merely satisfying minimal requirements when providing support for these students.

*For more information on your rights visit www.nwlc.org