Student moms balance education, children


Photo courtesy of Dian Nurfajriah

Dian Nurfajriah, a graduate student studying labor and employment relations, with her husband and her children, Gentza, Ziya and Izan, at Orchard Downs during the winter. Nurfajriah and Ilze Vaivode, a graduate student in Education, talk about their experience juggling school and motherhood.

By Matt Troher, Assistant Features Editor

Dian Nurfajriah, graduate student in Labor and Employment Relations, sits at her apartment’s kitchen table and logs into a Zoom meeting. Like many students working from home, her background is blurred to eliminate distractions.

However, Nurfajriah’s background occasionally becomes unblurred when her three-year-old son, Izan’s, natural curiosity gets the best of him as he peers into the webcam’s frame. 

Alongside being a student, Nurfajriah is the mother of three children: seven-year-old Gentza, five-year-old Ziya and three-year-old Izan.

According to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, nearly 22% of all undergraduate college students are parents with student mothers outnumbering fathers 2.7 million to 1.1 million. Additionally, a law requiring all Illinois colleges and universities to collect data regarding student parents roughly estimated 14% of college students in Illinois are parents.

Student parents at the University face a unique set of challenges and joys as they juggle the dual responsibilities of parenting and academics.

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    Nurfajriah said she and her husband moved from Indonesia to Champaign to begin her master’s program. There, they lived at Orchard Downs — a University Housing community that serves primarily graduate students and their families. Nurfajriah said the flexibility of her study program and her husband’s support made balancing parenting with academics relatively easy.

    Nurfajriah said she enjoys living at Orchard Downs. She emphasized the impact University Housing’s support for student families has had on her family’s standard of living.

    “Orchard Downs is really nice to bring family to,” Nurfajriah said. “University Housing was really supportive when helping me choose my apartment. They didn’t just set me up in any apartment, they took into account my preferences like living near a playground and on the first floor, and they made it happen.”

    Nurfajriah described the best part of living at Orchard Downs.

    “It really helped me because I can stay at home and study and my kids can spend their time at the playgrounds right behind our apartment,” Nurfajriah said. “A big hill is right in front of our apartment, so last winter our kids really enjoyed sledding down the hill. I’m so grateful for their support.”

    When the challenges of being an international student get to her, Nurfajriah said she looks to her children for inspiration.

    “Being an international student in a country I’ve never been to before, with a different language, culture and so on is hard sometimes,” Nurfajriah said. “Whenever I feel exhausted with (classes), I go to my kids, look at how adorable they are, look how they also try their best to adapt here and remember how my husband supports me too. That’s how I get my motivation back. They are such a great inspiration and stress relief for me.”

    Ilze Vaivode, a graduate student in Education, moved to Champaign from Riga, Latvia in 2020 to attend the University on a Fulbright grant. When Vaivode and her husband arrived, they chose not to enroll their two-year-old son Benjamin in preschool due to COVID-19 concerns. 

    “That was a really big struggle,” Vaivode said. “I have a job, I’m a full-time student and my husband has a job as well. Balancing work, studies and taking care of a child was really a struggle. It was very draining.”

    Vaivode also lives at Orchard Downs and decided to enroll her son in the unit’s preschool in 2021. Similar to Nurfajriah, Vaivode said Orchard Downs’s resources for student parents have made a difference in her experience as a student.

    “(The preschool) worked out really well because it’s really close to where we live, it’s a small community, everyone is really friendly and everyone cares about you and your family,” Vaivode said. “(Orchard Downs) is very international, which I like. I think it’s easier for us as international students to connect with other international students that can relate better to our experience.”

    According to Vaivode, the Orchard Downs preschool temporarily shut down in February due to staffing shortages. Following the closure, Vaivode reenrolled her son at the Campus Cooperative Preschool in Urbana.

    According to Vaivode, besides COVID-19, another challenge of being a student parent is figuring out finances.

    “When it comes to childcare, the biggest issue that we had was COVID-19, but that’s temporary,” Vaivode said. “The other one was the cost of childcare; I was not expecting it to be so expensive.”

    The conjoined financial pressures of continuing education and raising a child can be a stressor for student parents. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of raising a child is roughly $12,980 per year. For the 2022-23 school year, the estimated cost of attending UIUC is $36,151 per year for in-state students, $55,713 for out-of-state students and $57,656 for international students.

    Numerous resources exist to provide assistance — both financial and social — for student parents. Brenda Kay Eastham, director of operations at the Child Care Resource Service associated with the College of ACES, emphasized how the CCRS’s child care assistance program strives to assist low-income student parents.

    “Childcare can be one of the most expensive things at all, it’s right up there with college tuition,” Eastham said. “If a parent is going to school, they aren’t necessarily making money in other ways. The child care assistance program does look at income, so the amount a parent has to pay is based on how much they make.”


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