Photo courtesy of Isabel Olea. Resource materials available for student parents at COD.
Going back to college as a parent is more common than ever. Many students returning to College of the Desert this fall semester are parents who are juggling commitments with family and work. Many of these students are making a comeback as they try to create better opportunities for their families and advance their careers.
According to institutional research at COD, the majority of students this fall are 19 years old and younger, making up 26 percent of enrolled students. The EDGE (Engage, Develop, Grow and Empower) program is making COD an attractive option for high school graduates who can take advantage of free tuition and priority registration. Many students at COD are returning after working for years or taking time off to raise a family.
Carmen Olea, 52, is a student who is part of the 6 percent of students 50 years and above. She is a working mother of one daughter. Olea is the Director of Finance for Hotel Paseo in Palm Desert and is originally from Michoacán, Mexico. She emigrated to the United States when she was 25 years old and has been working ever since in the accounting field. Olea said going back to school has helped her learn skills that are helping her tackle new responsibilities.
Olea was a part-time student at COD during her late twenties while she juggled motherhood and life. Now, more than twenty years later, she has returned to college. She no longer has to worry about raising her little girl, but her college experience brings new struggles. The work in her financial accounting class is all done online. “20 years ago was a different time and school worked in a different way. Now it’s more technical and I am struggling to catch up.”
Olea says her classes are hard but benefiting her. She learned about managing inventory in her financial accounting class and said the timing couldn’t have been better. “At my new job, the hotel’s inventory is something I have to record to close out each month. I have never done it before, but it was so easy because we just learned about it in class.”
Priscilla Goehner, 25, has also returned to COD. She is taking one math class this semester. As a single mother, she supports her 7 year old son by working as a full-time server at the Courtyard Marriott in Palm Springs.
Goehner was born and raised in the Coachella Valley but did not pursue college because she had to take care of her boy. Today her son inspires her to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. “Boys are rough. He got hurt a lot when he was little and I always panicked because I didn’t know how to take care of him.” Goehner hopes to get into the nursing program at COD, but for now is enrolled in one class.
Her math class is challenging as she struggles to balance other commitments. Goehner said, “sometimes I don’t have enough energy to keep up with all that I have to do. I have a hard time with anxiety, but I try not to let it get to me.” Goehner’s family, especially her sisters have been a huge support system for her. Through them she has learned the importance of putting family first.
Student parents like Olea and Goehner do not go unnoticed at COD. Amber Black, professor of sociology, has noticed that parents tend to enroll in certain classes because it fits better with their work and parenting schedule. “Evening classes are where I see a lot of my student parents. Also, online classes have been helpful for my students who are juggling multiple commitments,” said Black.
Black understands the struggles parents face like missing a class because of a sick child. Despite challenges, Black believes, “they are just as invested and responsible as any other students who are not parents.” Black encourages all of her students to reach out to instructors for help. “Sometimes students are apprehensive to tell me if they are struggling. They can be intimated by their professors, but they forget we are human beings with the same troubles,” said Black. Black encourages students who have children to take advantage of campus resources such as the McCarthy Family Child Development & Training Center.
The McCarthy Center is the model lab/demonstration program for the Childhood Development & Education department. The program serves children from 12 months to 5 years, with priority for the children of COD students carrying at least 6 credits. Space permitting, the center enrolls the children of faculty, staff and the community and offers reasonably priced child care.
Natalie Holland, a receptionist at the center says young children at the center will engage in activities such as cooking, painting, reading, and even dancing. Preschoolers do creative work such as making an embroidered tapestry or engaging in fun scientific exploration. Parents can receive funding from the school and also apply for scholarships to help pay for the program. Veterans can also apply for aid.
The McCarthy Center is open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m until 5 p.m. and on Fridays until 3 p.m. A new evening program that runs from 4:30 p.m to 10 p.m. is available for parents at night. For more information on applications or aid, visit the center on the northern side of campus or contact them at (760) 862-1308.
What keeps student parents going when life gets difficult? For Carmen Olea and Priscilla Goehner, their children motivate them to keep fighting. Olea says her daughter is the main reason she is motivated when things get tough. “I am showing my daughter that anything is possible, even at my age and that gives me strength and patience throughout my day.” Olea is proud of herself and wants parents like her to know that they can go back to school, “I know it’s not easy, but it is so worth it,” said Olea.
Priscilla thinks of her son whenever life feels tough to handle. “I want to create better opportunities for him too. I hope my son will look at me one day and be proud of what I am doing,” said Goehner.