Senior Brittany Blockmon had no choice.
Childcare for her daughter had fallen through, and she had no one else to turn to. Blockmon faced the same choice of many UMKC students: either skip class or try your luck and bring your child with you.
Blockmon chose her education, showed up with her infant and was promptly asked by her professor to leave.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, more than a quarter of undergraduates—about 4.8 million students—are raising dependent children. This number has risen 30% since 2004, but schools continue to lack affordable childcare solutions to accommodate the growing student population.
As more student-parents fill universities, professors must decide if they will allow children or keep their classroom strictly for adult students.
K.C. Atchison, Title IX compliance specialist and senior investigator for UMKC, said the university does not have any specific policies related to allowing children in class. She explained that, because class format differs based on lecture, labs, small groups, etc., it would not be conducive to have a one-size-fits-all regulation.
“Our office recommends that each faculty member express on the syllabus if guests are not permitted [to bring children] without prior permission from the instructor,” Atchison said. “We do encourage faculty to be flexible and work with student-parents as much as possible, but also want to respect the needs of the classroom, safety rules and considerations, and the other students.”
Any student missing class due to pregnancy or parenting is protected under Title IX, Atchison said, and they should contact the Title IX office if they face any penalizations from their professors.
Despite encouragement from the Title IX office, many professors do not explain their stance on children in class on their syllabus.
History Professor Rebecca Davis is one of the only professors in the College of Arts and Sciences with a thoroughly explained stance in their syllabus. Davis has three children herself and knows the struggle.
“I thought about how hard it is to figure out what to do on the weird days when schools are closed for parent-teacher conferences, when your childcare cancels on you at the last minute or UMKC stays open in inclement weather, but your kids’ school is closed,” Davis said.
Davis sees her role as a professor as being an ally to a student’s education, not a barrier to it.
“It’s already so hard to balance being a parent and a student,” Davis said. “I wanted to spell out my willingness to accommodate parents when these things pop up.”
Davis encourages exclusively breastfed babies to come to class as often as necessary, explaining that mothers should never have to choose between feeding their baby or continuing their education.
“For students unaccustomed or uncomfortable with mothers nursing in public, politely move to another seat or get over it,” Davis notes in her syllabus.
Davis does have a few conditions to keep the classroom a place for education, however.
She asks students not to bring older children to class as a long-term solution or on test days without giving her sufficient notice.
Blockmon tried to bring her daughter to class four times during her time at UMKC. Three of the her professors were welcoming; one was not. Although Blockmon understands why the professor would not allow her baby in class, she feels there should be more assistance at UMKC for students with children.
Blockmom said she was unaware of the Title IX Office’s support to students in her situation.
“I try my best to have arrangements for her because I know she can be a distraction,” Blockmon said. “I’ve had instructors that were OK with me taking my baby to class, and I’ve had one who told me to leave. I was a little embarrassed, but then I realized she’s the one I’m doing this for.”
UMKC has a daycare located on campus, but its rates are often outside the constraints of an average student budget. The Berkeley Child and Family Development Center offers childcare to students, faculty and outside community members, but its costs start at nearly $1,200 a year and more than $900 for pre-primary.
According to The Hechinger Report, which covers inequality and innovation in education, students with preschool-aged children are twice as likely to drop out than students without children. Blockmon will graduate from UMKC in December with a degree in communication studies, her daughter by her side.