For MTSU English and education major and mother Aiko Baker, balancing her studies and a part-time job with parenting her 2-year-old son has been tough, but she knows the challenge is well worth it.
“I’m doing it for him,” Baker said.
To help lower-income student parents like Baker manage the financial burden of child care while pursuing a degree, MTSU’s June Anderson Center for Nontraditional Students launched the Child Care Fund earlier this year. It awarded around 20 child care grants of about $1,000 a semester to applicants who are Pell-eligible and have one or more dependent.
The application deadline to receive funds for the spring 2023 semester is Friday, Dec. 2, at 4 p.m. Those interested can apply by going to www.mtsu.edu/pcsw/childcare.php#Child_Care_Grants and following the appropriate links to access the application form.
Fall 2022 marked the first cohort of grant recipients, and Baker was one of them.
“Thanks to the grant, I only had to pay $16 for tuition this semester!” Baker said. “For the first time in my college life, I have not had to take a single penny in loans! This is huge for me, as I’ve already racked up almost $20,000 in debt from school.”
1 in 5 are student parents
A Murfreesboro, Tennessee native, Baker’s mother is also a Blue Raider alumna. Her mother began her studies the year Baker was born, so Baker feels like she grew up on campus.
“I started school in 2013 and went for a year, then took a year off and came back for another year,” Baker said about her own studies. “I started again after my son was born in 2020. Having him gave me a renewed sense of purpose.”
Planning to teach high school, Baker will graduate in two years.
“Initially, I will only be certified to teach English, and I’d love to host a drama club,” Baker said. “I’ll go back and get my master’s and get certified to teach theater as well. I have had thoughts of pursuing a Ph.D., but that is a ways in the future, and I’m not sure about that yet.”
Maigan Wipfli, June Anderson Center director, said that 1 in 5 college students are raising children, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
“Students with dependents have many additional expenses that differ from the traditional student,” Wipfli said. “Parenting students must not only fund their tuition but they also pay for child care — perhaps before, during and after their study or working hours — have higher food and grocery bills and other cost of living expenses.”
In addition to the Child Care Fund, the center hosts a variety of programs that students can attend throughout the year.
It also helps connect parenting students with resources on- and off-campus and has partnerships with local agencies that staff can refer pregnant and parenting students to, if they have additional needs that MTSU does not provide.
“We also host an annual school supply drive for students with dependents,” Wipfli said.
Anyone can donate to the drive by dropping off school supplies to Room 330 in the Student Union or purchasing donations from an Amazon wish list located here.
Checks also can be made out to the MTSU Foundation with the following in the memo line: Fund 92318 Day Care Lab.
Baker said the center has helped her feel more connected to her son, even while managing her time between her many responsibilities.
“The JAC (June Anderson Center) has provided me with activities to bond with my son in activity kits and games,” Baker said. “I can focus more on my studies knowing he and I will get quality time together. They’ve also helped me feel more connected to my school.
“As a nontraditional student and (with) everything going on in my life, I have felt a bit isolated in the past. The center helps me realize I’m not the only one on this journey.”
To learn more about the Child Care Fund, visit the website at www.mtsu.edu/jac/nontrad/Parenting_Resources.php.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)