She has five kids, commutes four hours a day, tackles 17 units a semester, works 15 hours a week at an unpaid internship and it’s been 20 years since she dropped out of college.
This is Lory Costello-Neeley’s life here at Point Loma Nazarene University. After attending Point Loma at the age of 18, and getting married and having a baby at 21, she dropped out of school and now, more than 20 years later she’s back at Point Loma, graduating in May 2018 with her bachelor’s degree in journalism.
Costello-Neeley’s reasoning for coming back to school is based largely on needing a college degree to advance in her career. When she tried to pursue a higher management position at her last job, she was frustrated by what she felt was an unfair requirement to have a college degree, so she quit and came back to Point Loma.
“I was hopeful that I could lead by example,” said Costello-Neeley. “My hope is that my kids see that even though I have all these obstacles, I’m finishing, so hopefully it gives them a burning desire to finish.”
After graduation, Costello-Neeley plans to pursue her master’s in business, as well as her doctorate in business. As for her kids, Costello-Neeley says, “My kids are happy, they always say they’re proud of me.”
An Institute for Women’s Policy Research study released in November 2014 states that women make up 71 percent of all college students who are also parents. Furthermore, 43 percent of the total student population who have children are single mothers.
“Whenever those different life [decisions] happen—and it might be completely reasonable and even feel emotionally correct—then obviously you’re veered off that direct path,” said Linda Beail, PLNU professor of political science and director of the Margaret Stevenson Center for Women’s Studies. “And I think it’s women much more than men; daughters, sisters and mothers, who make that choice and make that sacrifice to care for other family members.”
Costello-Neeley is clearly not alone in her struggles to balance college responsibility and raising children. One of the many challenges faced by these student parents is childcare. For Costello-Neeley, her semi-retired husband is home to spend time with their five-year-old son, Cash. However, many parents are not so lucky and have to turn to extremely expensive daycare or rely on extended family members to watch their children while the parents juggle classes, jobs and homework.
As for Costello-Neeley, she’s not afraid to share that coming back to college, more than 20 years after dropping out to be a mother, is challenging and intimidating. However, she looks forward to graduation day in just a couple of months, when her parents, husband and kids will all proudly watch as she is finally presented with her college degree.