By Shawna Daly
When Marina Perez was 21, she had her dreams interrupted by an unplanned pregnancy.
“Before all this happened, I wanted to be a chef,” says Perez, who dropped out of the Walnut Hill Culinary School halfway through college. “I worked as a barista through college.”
When Perez discovered she was pregnant, she realized it was because she wasn’t using her birth control consistently. Since Perez had lost both of her parents, having a baby while in college was unrealistic,shesaid,adding,“Ididn’twant to be a number in a statistic.”
Perez felt unstable and needed to find her footing, so she left school.
She is not alone.
Andrea Kane, senior director of policy and partnerships at the National Campaign, found that “seven in 10 pregnancies among single women in their 20s are unplanned.”
And unplanned pregnancy directly impacts college completion rates, experts say.
According to the National Survey of Family Growth, 61 percent of pregnant community college students don’t graduate, 65 percent higher than those without children while in college.
Progressive Policy Institute found that 38 percent of female community college dropouts say becoming pregnant was the cause.
According to Achieving the Dream, a national community college success organization, students with children face unrealistic expenses, such as child care, employment, student loans, and housing issues, all of which are impediments to academic performance.
A solution for many college students is to use birth control.
An analysis at Florida State University found that access to birth control before 21 was a critical factor in increasing enrollment rates for college women.
“The ability to delay and space childbearing is crucial to women’s social and economic advancement,”
states a study of birth control practices by Guttmacher University. “Women’s ability to obtain and effectively use contraceptives has a positive impact on their education and workforce participation.”
Unfortunately, for some students, leaving home for a four-year school is a lifestyle change that breeds irresponsibility, particulary with respect to alcohol consumption and unprotected promiscuous sex.
Students who participated in Maticka- Tydale study at University of Windsor stated that 76 percent of men and 19 percent of women reported they intended to have sex with someone during spring break, and 26 percent of males and nearly 36 percent of females failed to use a condom during sex with someone they met on spring break.
Another study at Illinois University found that alcohol use is directly connected with sexual promiscuity: 49 percent of males and 38 percent of females reported having sex as a direct result of drinking.
Experts say that educating college students about sex, contraceptives, and prevention, could decrease the rates of unplanned pregnancies, something many students say is highly desirable.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, three-quarters of student’s report that preventing unplanned pregnancy is very important to them, and 80 percent say that having a child while in college would make completion hard-won.
The AACC encourages implementing curricular content regarding safe and consensual sex, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases, and building healthy relationships.
In response, some community colleges implement educational courses and clubs to inform students about real-life sexual situations and how to prevent STDs and pregnancy.
In 2009, Delaware Technical and Community College used grant money to create an on-campus health clinic where students can receive birth control and the morning after pill as well as get professional advice for health concerns.
Online classes with chat forums could also help students access credible information and conversation about preventing pregnancy. However, many colleges do not provide these services.
DCCC counselor Ruth Campbell says that when female students confide in her about their sexual relationships, she recommends the course PSY 205, Human Sexual Behavior.
PSY 205 is a three credit course that highlights conception, contraception, STDs, and sexual life styles.
However, PSY205 has a prerequisite of PSY 140 or SOC 110, preventing students from learning about the sexual behaviors they are most likely engaging in.
Campbell says that pregnant students don’t realize that their parents aren’t going to watch after their grandchild while the mother is at school, and some less fortunate pregnant students don’t have a support system to begin with.
Furthermore, college doesn’t return to normal after nine months of pregnancy is over. Campbell says that she has seen new mothers have to drop classes or semesters to find childcare. And when credits expire, new mothers are too discouraged to return to college.
“Some pregnant students think that after nine months they can return to their life as a student again and move on,” Campbell said. “But they’re changing their identity from a student to a young mother.”
Campbell doesn’t believe she has all the resources to counsel pregnant students on a regular basis. Occasionally, she will assign another counselor to speak with a student about her pregnancy or sexually abusive relationships.
According to Campbell, DCCC has held sexual health lectures in the STEM building, and upcoming lectures can be found on the Campus Life events web- page.
Publicly funded family planning services make access to contraceptives and medical exams accessible for all demographics.
On Aug. 1, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), FDA-approved contraceptive methods would be available without copay.
Within the first year, women saved $483 million on birth control pills.
Planned Parenthood offers their workshop services to schools, including consultations, peer education programs, and presentations. They also provide tools to help schools build sex education curriculums.
Planned Parenthood provides abortion services as well. According to Planned Parenthood, 30 percent of women in the United States have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old.
After being faced with an unplanned pregnancy, Perez went to Planned Parenthood to have an abortion.
Perez says that her abortion was the most difficult experience of her life, but it was the only realistic option.
Seeing the pregnancy through and finding adoptive parents would have occupied a large part of her early twenties, Perez says, and her job during this time wouldn’t have covered the costs of living plus medical expenses.
“I felt an early term abortion was my only option,” Perez said. “It was painful, traumatic, and I carry that with me everyday. ‘Who would my baby have been? Would my baby look like me?’”
Despite dropping out of culinary school, Perez says she is proud of the accomplishments she’s made since her unplanned pregnancy.
“I’ve been with Melodies Cafe in Ardmore for almost two years,” Perez said. “Now I’m being trained for a management position.”
Perez is continuing to build experience for her resume in a career field in which she feels comfortable. She is undecided about returning to school, yet feels confident in her leadership abilities.
“If I decide to go back to school, I would save some money and go to community college,” Perez says. “I liked going to school, and I know not to make the same mistake twice.”