The lives of student-parents

Textbooks, homework and children’s coloring books lay scattered on Kashia and Uvaldo Rodriguez’s dining table. The items are cleared before the couple heads out the door to make their morning classes.           

Kashia explained that her husband, a senior at UTPA, often reminds her that they must both continue their studies to make a good life for their family.

“I hope (my daughter) sees that she has two parents that will be college educated and learn that school is a priority,” 25-year-old Kashia said. “I want her to see that anything is possible to overcome.”

In 2010, researchers at the University of Illinois surveyed 966 student-parents and found that 24.5 percent of participants lived with a spouse or partner.

That same year, 19-year-old Zulema and Salomon Ortiz married and started a family soon after. The Pharr couple’s decision to attend college was pushed by their kids and the belief that it would benefit their family.

“As a young mom, I promised myself to give the best to my children,” Zulema said. “I have to look at the big picture. Everything I’m doing is to provide a better life for our kids.”

According to the Institute for Research on Poverty, children born to women with a college degree  gain substantial investments of both money and time in higher education.

When it comes to receiving a degree from UTPA, tuition for non-resident students such as Zulema, Uvaldo and Kashia costs about $3,972 per semester, according to the University’s Fact Book. In addition to tuition fees, CNN said that an average-income couple raising a child will spend over $241,080 until said child turns 18 years old.

Salomon, a UTPA alumnus, believed that in order to provide for his wife and two kids, he had to get a college degree.

“I knew I had to get a decent job. I couldn’t be living off minimum wage,” the 22-year-old said. “My family is what kept me going.”

LITTLE BRONCS

While the Ortiz couple has Salomon’s mother to care for their children while they are away at work and school, Kaisha uses the Child Development Center at the University as a way to fulfill her daughter’s needs when she herself is busy on campus.

The psychology major explained that she never wanted to put her child in a day care because if she was able to take care of her daughter, then she would. She admitted that school and work made it challenging for her and her husband to tend their child’s needs.

“I always felt bad because she loves books and would want me to read to her…and I had homework or other stuff that I was focused on,” the Edinburg native said. “I felt bad not giving her that attention.”

Kashia also said that she sometimes doesn’t want to part from her daughter, but realizes that her 2-year-old is receiving an education.

“I didn’t even know we had a day care on campus until I had (my daughter),” she said. “Trying to handle school and raising a child wasn’t overwhelming anymore. I finally felt like I could breathe. I know she’s in a safe place and I’m nearby. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Rosalinda Ramirez, assistant director for the UTPA Child Development Center, said she believes that with an on-campus day care, parents can focus on their studies and feel comfortable that their children are in a safe place. She also feels that the Center lessens the load of student-parents.

“Some parents get overwhelmed and don’t know what to do,” the 52-year-old said. “They have challenges. I think if we didn’t have the Center, they would be going through so much more.”

The CDC opened in 2005 under its present Director, Elda M. Perez. According to their website, the building accommodates 140 children a day with the help of 20 full-time teachers.

Ramirez, a Progreso native, believes that by providing an on-campus daycare, student-parents are able to graduate.

Kashia explained that undergoing school, work and raising a child was challenging, but ultimately hopes her daughter will apply those experiences toward her own life as she grows up.

“My parents never went to college, so that really impacted me,” she said. “Seeing them struggle as I grew up…I didn’t want that for my child.”

After a day of school and work, the Rodriguez family walks through their front door. Kashia rests her textbook-filled backpack on the dining table while her daughter pulls out some coloring books of her own.

Kashia plans on continuing her studies to earn her doctorate, while Uvaldo anticipates his own graduation. Meanwhile, Salomon looks forward to seeing Zulema receive her diploma come 2016.