Utah moms face barriers in higher education

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(KUTV)- Every mom knows life with kids is a balancing act. Add “student” to your title and the challenge gets tougher.

Researchers with the Women in the Economy Commission wanted to find out what barriers hold Utah women back when it comes to pursuing higher education.

According to their findings, 53 percent of Utah college students are women, but the state ranks one of the lowest in the country, 46th, when it comes to female enrollment.

The study, led by Dr. Catherine Jeppsen at the Utah Valley University, enlisted student moms to share their experiences.

“It’s discouraging to see we still have so much ground to make up compared to women in the United States,” Jeppsen said.

Amber Bird has her second child on the way as she prepares to graduate with a bachelor degree. She plans to pursue her masters just after that.

“I’ve had a lot of friends who say if I didn’t get married or didn’t have kids then I would do this and this and this and this. They list their dreams and their goals but they say ‘but, I can’t because I feel like I should be a mom too,’” Bird said.

She doesn’t want to have to choose between her education and being a mom, but often, that is a challenge.

“We should make efforts to remove those barriers. It should be a conversation that doesn’t cause guilt and doesn’t make people feel like they are abandoning their roles as women,” Bird said.

The commission is looking for ways to make higher education more mom-friendly. Some solutions include schedule flexibility, access to on-campus childcare, lactation rooms and baby-friendly study rooms.

“If you have somewhere that you can take your children that you feel good about, that you know will be enriching for them, that’s developmentally appropriate, that you can afford, where you know they’ll be safe and loved and then you also get to pursue this thing that’s really meaningful to you and that’s going to help you and your family in the future, then I think that would make a huge difference,” Jeppsen said.

“We want to take down as many barriers as possible to help women be all they can be,” Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D-Salt Lake City) said.

Bird said juggling school and motherhood has taught her what it really means to be a good mom.

“Being a good mom is not about the amount of time you ’re home, it’s about what you do with the time when you’re home,” she said.

Her hope is to inspire other moms to pursue their passions.

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