Associate professor is researching how to help students who have parenting and caregiving responsibilities

Photo by Brian Wangenheim

Associate professor and librarian at Albertsons Library Kelsey Keyes has taken a sabbatical through the end of the year to focus on her research about Boise State students who have parenting and caregiving responsibilities. 

Through her time as a librarian at Boise State, Keyes has noticed that some students who have children with them often do not feel welcome or comfortable on campus. 

Photo of Kelsey Keyes
[Photo of Kelsey Keyes]
Photo courtesy of Kelsey Keyes | Boise State

Keyes knows there are a lot of students at the university who are also full-time parents. She believes it is time for the university to do something to support them. 

Currently, Boise State has several lactation rooms around campus, which is federally mandated, as well as changing tables in restrooms. However, Keyes believes students need more than these simple accommodations. 

“There are a lot of parenting students on campus and they don’t always feel like they belong or that the university is not meant for them,” Keyes said.

As part of her research, Keyes hopes to create family-friendly rooms in the Albertsons Library. 

Keyes received a grant to create backpacks filled with various toys and books for children to play with while their parents work on school-work in the Albertsons Library. 

According to Keyes, 26% of college students nationwide have dependent children, and students who have dependent children have higher attrition rates than others, meaning they are more likely to drop out of school.

“If we can find ways to support parenting students, that would decrease [Boise State’s] attrition rates,” Keyes said. 

Keyes has often seen students quieting their children in the library and constantly attending to their needs. Overall, these students seemed stressed over balancing their schoolwork and tending to their children at the same time. 

Photo of a woman working on her laptop holding a child on her knee.
[Photo of a woman working on her laptop with a child held on her lap]
Photo by Brian Wangenheim | Unsplash

“Watching these interactions I thought, ‘Oh, they don’t feel like they’re allowed to come in here. They don’t feel like they are allowed to bring their children in,’” Keyes said. “I just began to think that that means we are failing because the library should be for all students.” 

Keyes recalled a specific time she was at the library when a student appeared to be struggling with her children while writing a paper. It was apparent to Keyes that the space was not welcoming to the student.

“She was trying to do what a lot of students try to do, which is write up their paper and print it at the library, but she was doing it with a toddler and a baby,” Keyes said.   

Instances like this are why Keyes is conducting her research and trying to make a change on campus. She has been actively conducting student-parenting research since 2015 and has an article published outlining her research.  

Recently, Keyes sent out a student survey to nearly 4,000 Boise State student emails and has received over 500 responses from students who struggle with parenting responsibilities.

 The survey consisted of questions asking students about their enrollment, age, gender, race and how they are adapting to classes while raising a family. 

“A lot of [parenting students] are first-generation college students and a lot of them are from under-represented groups,” Keyes said. “I look at this as an issue of inclusion, diversity and equity. Which I know Boise State is committed to. I think if we have this group of parenting students that overlaps with all of these groups that we say we want to support, then we need to support parenting students.” 

Keyes admires parenting students’ hard work and determination. 

“I’ve talked to some parents who are single parents and they’re working and they’re going to school and they’re taking care of their kid and it’s just amazing,” Keyes said. “They are some of the hardest working students out there and they feel like they can’t even say that they have kids because they will not fit in or look like they are asking for special treatment.”

Keyes noted that students who also raise a family are a good influence on their children. Growing up with a positive impact will motivate children to pursue and work hard for what they want, according to Keyes. 

“Parenting students are a larger population. They are facing so many challenges already and I just think that it’s really important for us, as a university, to do everything we can to help them succeed,” Keyes said. 

Illustration of a mother working on her laptop while her child watches
Illustration by Abi Millet
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