How West Virginia University provides aid to full-time student-parents
By Connor Schlegel, Connor Murray and Domenico Smarto.
For many college students, juggling the daily demands of a school schedule is a major stressor. For the estimated 4,760 student parents enrolled at West Virginia University however, it’s only part of the equation.
Finding the time and resources to be a successful student and parent can be quite the challenge, but there is help available on campus.
With two locations in Morgantown, WVU’s Student Family Resources office is suited to provide financial and child care assistance for undergraduate, graduate, international and professional student parents.
“Research shows that offering campus-based high quality child care enhances recruiting, retention, lessens absenteeism and enhances graduation rates,” said SFR director Leslie Haning.
Managing university funds supplemented by federal grant funding, enables SFR to provide student parents with financial assistance to help pay for child care while they pursue their degree.
“It’s important for decision makers to understand the true cost of child care and the financial burden this creates for young families. In WV the annual cost of infant care is 32% higher than in-state tuition for 4-year public college. In our state, child care costs for two children is 73% higher than average rent,” Haning said.
Through SFR, that burden can be significantly lightened, and in the case of student parents with military backgrounds, it can be eliminated altogether through the Student Child Care Assistance Program.
That’s exactly what the program has done for Marine Corps veteran Matt Gibson, a 24-year-old graduate student who has his daughter Thea’s child care paid in full by SFR.
“It’s a huge load off,” Gibson said. “What does that mean? Now maybe you can cut down hours (at work) and have even more time to focus on your family and school to reach that end goal.”
The monthly financial aid he and his wife receive for child care certainly helps out their budget, but Gibson said the mental relief that money provides is just as important.
“That’s $900 a month that’s not weighing on you,” he said. “You’re not thinking ‘Are we going to have a roof over our head next month? Is there going to be food on the table?’”
In addition to the financial aid SFR offers, the office also provides child care at the Mountaineer KidZone, located in the Student Recreation Center.
Established in 2004 by Director Haning, MKZ exists to provide affordable high quality child care to allow students, faculty and staff the chance to maintain a healthy lifestyle and offers a convenient study location as well.
“MKZ was initially developed as a pilot project until we were able to establish a permanent campus-based child care center,” Haning said. “In 2004 we weren’t able to find any peer institutions offering this unique service. Since then we have served as a consultant nationally with other institutions as a model for establishing similar programs.”
“Because of the unique nontraditional flexible care MKZ offers for our WVU families it has been extremely successful and we’re able to continue operations. Our assessments reveal students, faculty and staff repeatedly report that the MKZ is integral part of strengthening their employment and educational experience here.”
The MKZ is open from 4-7 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and from 9:30 a.m. – noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and is free for members of the rec center.
With an enrollment of 354 children aged six weeks – eight years, the MKZ employs 15-20 WVU students per semester.
“We provide a great source of student employment and service learning opportunities. MKZ offers students experiential learning that will enhance their academic experience as well in their chosen profession after they graduate,” Haning said.
The child care and financial aid offered by SFR is readily accessible for any eligible applicant, but the idea of asking for help can sometimes prevent people from tapping into them.
Gibson said there’s nothing wrong with admitting you can’t do everything on your own, and that the end goal of graduating and creating stability for your family should take precedence over pride.
“There’s plenty of people out there, and I know a few of them, who are too proud to use the resources that are out there. Don’t be too proud; use them,” Gibson said.
“Set your goals and stick to them. When bad things happen, don’t alter or change your goals to make it easier. Just stick with it.”
The main office for Student Family Resources is located at One Waterfront Place in Morgantown.
“It’s an accessible location and students appreciate our free parking when they visit the office,” Haning said, “We’ll provide private consultations for students to identify their individual needs and connect them with appropriate resources. Our goal is to provide a family supportive academic environment in order to help our students pursue their studies and graduate from WVU.”
Reporting/Producing by: Connor Schlegel, Connor Murray and Dom Smarto. Article written by Connor Murray.
Photos provided by the office of Student Family Resources at WVU.