Raising a Family at School

Tufts student mothers lobby for on-campus housing to accommodate their children

The Boston Globe
May 1, 2007

By April Simpson

Student mothers at Tufts University are asking the school to provide on-campus apartments where they can live with their children, an unusual arrangement.

The group members and the dean of student affairs plan to meet this week to talk about how feasible it would be for the school to provide housing for students with children.

Anne Stevenson, cofounder of the Tufts Alliance for the Advancement of Mothers, said dozens of parents are forced to drop out of Tufts each year because they cannot afford day care and a two-bedroom apartment nearby. Some of those who have family in the area commute as much as 60 miles to school. Affordable campus housing would let students be active in their children’s lives and on campus.

At least eight colleges nationwide, including Endicott College in Beverly, offer full residential programs for single parents, while some others provide informal arrangements. Many public universities offer family housing, which can be for couples or single parents.

More private colleges will probably confront the need for housing for single parents because more are encouraged to go to college than in the past, and the population of traditional-age students is expected to decline in the future, experts say.

“Just because you have a child doesn’t mean your life stops,” said 22-year-old Griselmarie Alemar, who has taken time off from Tufts to raise her 5-month-old child. “These girls have to stop their lives and get a job or leave their babies so they can get an education.”

Tufts officials, who do not track how many students have children, said this is the first time they’ve been asked to provide housing for single parents and their children.

Bruce Reitman, dean of student affairs at Tufts, said the school currently works with single parents individually to connect them with local resources, including legal advice, landlords, and a list of available apartments nearby. Reitman said Tufts will work to provide the housing the group requested after it sorts out various details, including whether they are asking for day care and childproofing in the apartments.

“Providing housing is not the magic solution unless you also address the support and care issues,” Reitman said.

Stevenson transferred to Tufts from University of Massachusetts at Boston in 2003 and subsequently took a year off to have her son. Upon returning, Stevenson said, she inquired about on-campus housing, and was told there was none. Stevenson, who had a full academic scholarship, said she was advised to take out loans to pay for housing and day care. After graduating last year, Stevenson finds herself $35,000 in debt.

As a student, Stevenson connected with about 20 undergraduate parents to create the group, including 23-year-old Yissy Perez, who was poised to begin her junior year when she learned she was pregnant.

Morning sickness made it impossible for Perez to continue with her engineering studies, so she took a semester off. After delivering a baby girl, she lived in an on-campus dorm without her daughter.

Perez could not afford day care, or the cost of rent near Tufts, where two-bedroom apartments hover around $1,500 a month, more costly than her Tufts room and board. Now her family cares for the child in Lawrence during the week, and she returns home via commuter rail on Fridays. Although Perez could live at home and attend a school nearby, she says she wants to graduate from the school she entered as a freshman.

It has been hard leaving her baby during the week, said Perez, who will graduate this month. “She doesn’t call me Mom anymore, which is really sad and painful,” she said.

Last month, the Tufts student senate passed a resolution in support of the student group’s efforts.

Mary Lee Hoganson, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said on-campus housing for single parents has become a growing issue among private colleges as more young parents return to college to increase job opportunities and get off welfare.

“It’s not that there are more single mothers, but there are more single mothers who are being encouraged to go to college,” Hoganson said. “It’s no longer a taboo that would preclude you from having a future.”

Steven Roy Goodman, a college admissions consultant in Washington, D.C., said that if Tufts accommodates these single parents, it would join a movement of schools repositioning themselves to attract a broader demographic. With the rising cost of college, students are also demanding equitable accommodations.

“Universities in 50 years will look very different from what they look like today,” Goodman said. “The 18- to 22-year-old traditional college student [population] is going to shrink, so in order for universities to survive, they have to reach out to other communities.”

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