By Laurie Davies
Statistically, students at University of Phoenix are working adults who study during lunch breaks and late evenings. Most (seven in 10) are women, and many (six in 10) are first-generation college students.
They’re also moms and dads. In fact, more than six in 10 of our students have dependents.
The challenges of going back to school while raising kids are both obvious and subtle. Family time is inevitably sacrificed — or at least sometimes spent in a distracted state. Yet, the kids missing some mom and dad time is often the driving factor behind the degree in the first place: Many of our students are middle-class moms and dads who just want to give their families a better life.
Two moms who persevered to achieve their degrees recently sat down to discuss the obstacles that exist — and why it’s worth it to overcome them.
A self-described passenger on the hot-mess express, Laura Jex started college at age 18 “like you’re supposed to.” But family life beckoned, she withdrew from school, and marriage and three babies came quickly. She tried to continue in community college, but it was too much to juggle as a new wife with one car and one kid at just 19 years old.
Her oldest was in kindergarten when she went back to school in 2015. “After taking my son to kindergarten one day, I was driving home thinking I needed something for myself. I had lost my identity a little bit,” she says.
It didn’t help that, for years, people in her life had chided her for getting married instead of getting her degree. She’d heard enough. “I like to prove people wrong,” she says.
She set out to finish her bachelor’s degree.
With her husband working as a driller then and gone three out of four weeks every month, Jex knew school would take discipline. She studied on her lunch breaks at work. At home, she set up her desk in the living room so that she could help her kids with homework while she worked on hers.
“In some ways it was motivating for the kids to watch me. My second one was in kindergarten when I was finishing my degree. The kids thought it was fun to watch mom do homework, too,” Jex says.
Many nights, Jex longed to just binge watch a show like her friends or fall asleep because she was a tired young mom of three. When her husband was home, he would talk to her just to keep her awake while she plowed through two hours of homework a night. She sometimes considered quitting. “I constantly had to remind myself that I’d already beaten myself up for not getting my degree the first time. Did I want to beat myself up again if I quit?”
A bit tongue in cheek, Jex says her desire to drop out was most acute during accounting classes. “I love math, algebra, even calculus, but I don’t know what it was about accounting. Debits and credits took way more effort than they should have for me,” she says.
Today, as the other half of Jex Woodcraft, a custom woodworking business in the Phoenix area, Laura Jex does everything but the woodworking (which her husband does). “I do the customer service, taxes, marketing, social media, billing, accounting ….” She pauses there. “University of Phoenix got the last laugh on that, I guess. Even when I was taking accounting, I knew it was good for me. I knew I would use it.”
Aside from the fact that she uses the skills she learned in her BSB in practical ways daily, Jex says the most gratifying aspects of earning her degree have been proving everyone wrong and proving something to herself. “I proved to myself that I could do it,” she says, “even if it wasn’t on everyone else’s timetable.”
The pandemic reached into every home in one way or another. For Tasha Skousen’s husband, it resulted in him leaving a career to go back to school — which he did at University of Phoenix.
“I watched the support he received,” Skousen says. “He had counselors calling him, showing him where he could save money, helping him look at all his options.”
With her husband in school, Skousen needed to support their family of five.
First, she cleaned her sister-in-law’s house. Then she saw an ad on social media for another cleaning job, which she did. “I came home, created a logo and name, filed for an LLC, and started rolling,” she says, adding that her housecleaning company, Olive Cleaning Company, now has 26 employees and is branching off into business ventures like restoration.
Back when Olive was in start-up mode, Skousen’s educational journey kind of felt that way, too. She’d had her own stops and starts, but watching her husband’s experience convinced her to enroll at University of Phoenix as well. She got her Associate of Arts in Business Fundamentals the same year her husband gradated with his bachelor’s degree. Then, at age 35, she earned her BS in Business Management.
Just like Laura Jex, Skousen had to become a master juggler. “I had designated time for studying and designated time to spend with our children. I knew I could fail at class, but I couldn’t fail at being a mom,” she says, noting that she did wind up with a 4.0. “I guess I didn’t fail at either.”
Financial sacrifices also had to be made. “We did do student loans, and there were times when I wanted to double up on classes, so we would have to pay out of pocket for that. There are things we feel like we sacrificed in the short term, but they were not sacrifices in the long term,” she says.
When Skousen uses a word like sacrifice, it has traction. “I personally never felt like school was going to be in the cards for me,” she says.
She had to leave home just shy of 15 years old. By age 18, she got married and adopted her younger sister. “My son was born six days after my sister turned 18. So, I went from raising my sister to raising my son.”
At age 22, Skousen got her GED certificate, but for years she thought that was the end of the road for her. Going back to school felt financially indulgent, and besides, she liked being a stay-at-home mom. Finally, however, she couldn’t shake the urge to earn her degree, and she enrolled.
“I think I told my husband every week, ‘Oh my goodness, I might actually do this.’ I accomplished things I didn’t know I could,” she says.
Daily, she uses the human resources, marketing and management material she learned while earning her BSBM. “I know how to run a company. I am able to provide jobs for people who are in the situation I was in a few years ago.”
Was it worth it?
“Absolutely,” she says. “Hard things are worth it. You’re never too old.”
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