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Counting the costs of student parenthood

College students who are parents face many struggles and situations that are out of the ordinary for the average college student. One of the primary burdens is financial.

College itself is expensive. According to the USF Web site, the average annual cost of attendance for a full-time resident undergraduate student is $15,390. For undergraduate students paying out-of-state tuition, the cost is $28,150. Resident graduate students’ cost of attendance is $19,060. Out-of-state tuition for graduate students is $34,700.

USF’s 2004-2005 Factbook listed the average amount of student aid awarded in the 2004-2005 school year as $6,701 including loans. The percentage of students receiving need-based aid in 2003-2004 was 53.3 percent. That’s a little more than half of the student population. No one can dispute the value of higher education, but the numbers are disheartening.

According to information gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2004, for families earning $70,200 per year, the average cost of raising a child from birth to age 17 will be $269,520. Families that live in urban areas of the West will spend the most, at $284,460. Families with lower incomes will spend slightly less. Families who make more than $65,000 will spend nearly $15,000 a year. Most college students can only dream of earning this type of salary.

As a college student and a parent, I can attest to the financial strain involved in raising a child on a student income. There was a time when the only monetary deliberations I made were whether I could wait until next payday to purchase those $80 boots or whether I could manage to live on the meager funds left after the boots were bought. Now I’m factoring diapers, wipes and food for another person into the equation. This miniature person necessitates more stuff, and more stuff equals the need for a bigger place to store that stuff, which leads to higher rent, higher utilities and … well, you get the picture. Being a parent has made me aware of how many things that seem necessary are really just indulgences.

Generic diapers usually work similarly to name brands. The same goes for wipes and other infant toiletries. For older children, flashcards can be created from plain white or colored index cards. Having a social life is not that imperative when it involves finding a sitter, paying a sitter, paying for the movie and popcorn all while thinking about the bills that need to be paid.

Financial aid is available, but it’s mainly to help pay for necessities such as room and board, tuition and books. In the last few semesters, there have been occasions where the gap between drop/add week and the day financial aid was disbursed was far too long.

There have been times when I’ve wondered if the quality of health care available to my son would improve if my annual gross were higher. I wonder why my son’s pediatrician never discusses things such as foods we’re feeding him or takes time to talk with us. It’s always in and out, like a revolving door. I can’t help but hear the patronizing tone behind the doctor’s “Good job, mom.” I haven’t yet figured out why he’s so surprised that my son is well-cared for; it might be my college student pocketbook or perhaps my age.

Whatever it may be, I console myself with the thought that I can soon move up in the world from a humble student making minimum wage to a salaried professional.

I tell myself that in the long run things will even out; my son will not hold a lifelong grudge against me because he didn’t wear name brands or because he didn’t get to see The Wiggles when they came to Tampa. I know that my degree will open up opportunities for my family and me that would be otherwise unavailable. I am confident that not only am I making it possible for him to have a better standard of living, I am also setting a good example for him to follow later. I also know that sometimes, numbers are just numbers.

And although there are some luxuries I miss, such as cable, I definitely derive more enjoyment from my child than I ever did from watching Sex In the City. At times, having a child is free, 24-hour on-the-spot entertainment – in the words of the MasterCard commercial, “Priceless.”