Temporarily without safety net. Is this okay?
September 22, 2011 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Do people actually quit their jobs to go to school while living on loans and government assistance--with children? If so, how?

My husband and I adopted a newborn in February. We are both in our late 20s, and had just enrolled in college (him for the first time). At the time, he had little direction, but knew that any worthwhile, well-paying career would not be hurt by a degree. Now that he has a semester of core under his belt and has been trying to decide what to do with his life...he really wants to become a nurse.

The problem is that in our situation, this would entail quitting his job, and most likely not having a job at all during the 2-3 years of nursing school. This would leave us having to take out student loans, grants, and whatever funding we could to pay our living expenses, and probably getting WIC, food stamps, etc. to make ends meet.

Is this a horrible idea? It feels somewhat morally grey, not to mention crazy irresponsible, but if this is what he really wants to do with his life, and I can't see any other way for him to do it (the classes aren't offered at night or online, I can't just switch my hours back to full-time with a snap of my fingers, and even if I could, we wouldn't be able to afford childcare, etc.), does that outweigh the somewhat icky feeling I have at having very little to fall back on with a child at home?

Do people do this? Is this a norm or an exception?

(For the record, we have family to rely on if something happened, say for instance he hates nursing school and has to quit and find another job.)
posted by starbaby to Work & Money (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There are a lot of different schools that let you schedule classes around a workday schedule. I'll admit that I've not seen nursing schools that let you do that -- but I haven't been looking, I'll admit. But I'm confident SOMETHING is out there.

If it helps, I"ve also heard male nurses do pretty well at finding jobs post-graduation, so that may also be a factor to consider. (I've heard that from ANOTHER male nurse.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2011

Well, financial aid is specifically budgeted to allow for cost of living allowances, including room and board and miscellaneous personal expenses. So, in my opinion it is unfortunately entirely too common.

Keep in mind that most schools won't award financial aid to pay for a whole household (maybe some childcare money, but not much). It's meant to go towards a monthly rent check and food for the student, that's it.

Also keep in mind that depending on the state, your husband may not be eligible for food stamps if he is a student. Talk to your human services agency about the requirements.
posted by Think_Long at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2011

I did it. Granted, my son was older, but it is doable.

Some schools have better resources for this sort of thing - I started at a community college and it was a hardship. Once I transfered to the university, it got much easier.

That said, it was hard. I worked a couple of jobs, plus did side work. I got a lot in grants, though, and the university had a fund set up to help offset child care costs.

My GPA suffered, but something was going to have to give, between work, school, and family.

It's not irresponsible, though. I'd say go for it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:30 AM on September 22, 2011

Many colleges and universities have resources that could be a big help to you. First, you might look into services for adult or nontraditional students, which at the very least might be a link to others in your situation.

In addition, many schools often have an office of child care and family resources.

In both cases, there are often scholarships available to help defray costs.

Finally, his chosen field could also be a big help; there are many scholarships out there for health careers or careers in underserved fields.

He (and you) should go down to your local school and talk to some counselors in financial aid and the nursing program, even if you don't think you can start living this way until several years later. And whatever you do, DON'T GIVE UP. If someone is rude or dismissive, or they tell you that their program is full, look at another school or transfer into this school later or whatever. DO NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER.
posted by Madamina at 11:32 AM on September 22, 2011

If you're worried about the moral gray area in taking WIC or food stamps (which I can't say whether you can or cannot get) keep in mind that the permanent increase in household income will mean a permanent increase in the amount of taxes you will pay. So, over the course of your lives, you will pay back the government benefit money and then some. Consider it a loan.
posted by griphus at 11:34 AM on September 22, 2011

People who are in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) attending graduate school are able to get grant funding through research or teaching assistantships salaries and tuition remission. This is what you may have had in mind when you asked your question.

Unfortunately this is often not available in the medical field. For the record - I do not work in the medical field.

I have a friend who is a male nurse. He too took classes and worked at a job around them for his Bachelor's degree. He is gainfully employed.

I am also not a CPA - the tuition you pay is tax deductable.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 11:34 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The current political climate surrounding benefits is NOT stable. It is not something to rely upon on a state or federal level as a long term plan. Who knows when and how financial aid, WIC, food stamps, and the like will be funded and distributed a year from now.

You can both work towards a more stable place, financially, but now, with a newborn, is not the time to be chasing a relatively new dream and relying on the government to pick up the slack.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:47 AM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Why would he not be able to have a job?

How much are you working and going to school through this?

Who all is getting student grants/loans/aid, just him, or both him and you?

Your location lists AR, is that accurate? If so, that helps. You couldn't do this in Manhattan or San Fransisco.

I would be worried about depending on WIC or welfare or students loans for 3 years. With the economy in the shitter, governments have been cutting benefits like crazy, such as unemployment benefits. These programs are not guaranteed to continue to be funded, especially depending on who wins the presidency in 2012, and how Congress swings.

I can give you anecdotal stories from I was in college and my kids were born - in the mid 90s. Not sure how relevant that still is.

In the end, only you can determine if this will work. You know your finances, and how much you have saved, how much family will help you financially, how much financial aid/grants/scholarships you receive, and how much you need to live on.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:48 AM on September 22, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone for the answers so far.

Here are some of my answers:

The program here--yes, in Arkansas--is either two or three years depending on your prerequisites. It is during the day, all day, plus study time. So, day shifts are out. I work in the evenings, so evening shifts are out, as he keeps the baby while I am at work. Then he studies, then sleeps. So night shifts are out.

Right now I work 25 hours a week and go to school (online) full time.

We both get grants for school right now. Mu husband is paid for at his current school, I get a smallish loan (<>
Here's some more information:

We get no assistance or anything right now. Our ends meet, though not exactly with overlap.

The amount of grants we get *now* is based on tax numbers that had me working full time. So, I am hoping to see an increase in my Pell grant when my switch to part-time is reflected.

The *plan* right now is for husband to spend the next two semesters (so, all of 2012) working his current job and attending the same school he does now, but spending his time completing all the prerequisites that would let him complete the two-year nursing program. Hopefully by the end of 2012, I will be full-time again, and then we will just need to get enough assistance/loans/grants to cover the difference plus childcare.

This question is mainly in regards to what we will have to do if I can't manage to get back to full-time by then.

And just to clarify, my question is less about the math of "will this work?" and more about the "is this as crazy as it sounds to me?" I know that you guys can't tell me numbers or costs for my life, or assure me that there will be money for loans. It seems that people do in fact do this, and I see griphus's point about the morality. I also appreciate the information about how the current climate affects benefits.
posted by starbaby at 12:42 PM on September 22, 2011

It is doable, and I do not see it as either crazy or morally reprehensible. You are both trying to improve your situation to provide a better home for your child, and you're trying to do it now instead of waiting for a better time to come along -- which may never happen. If you think you can do that; i say, try it and see if it will work.
posted by patheral at 12:48 PM on September 22, 2011

The question of the "math" ("will this work?") is in fact EXACTLY THE SAME as the question of "is this crazy?" If you'll be able to handle the loan repayments, then the plan is not crazy.

As far as the morality of taking government assistance while going to school, that should be the absolute last thing on your mind. But since you bring it up: I'd say that using government subsidies to improve your lives, which might hopefully to your becoming more active participants in civil society (not to mention paying more in taxes over the course of your lives), is perfectly A-OK.

No, the math is exactly what you need to worry about. You need to figure out how much debt you'll need to take on, and what the monthly payment is going to be for that debt after graduation. Is it really the case that your husband can't work during the day? Or is that just a recommendation? Could he find part time work? Student loans are very, very, dangerous things, and while it's great that your husband wants to go to school to get a better job, you both need to understand the danger. The danger is not, as you seem to think, that there won't be money for loans. The danger is that you'll get a loan, and then be unable to repay it.

I really don't mean to discourage you. Apply for and take every penny of government assistance you can. But when it comes to student loans, which are so so easy to get and so so hard to get rid of, don't depend on fuzzy feelings of "maybe I'll be able to get a higher-paying job with my degree."
posted by lex mercatoria at 1:27 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

The situation with financial aid is indeed unstable as heck right now. I've never had the slightest problem getting financial aid in the past, and in theory my eligibility is great. But there are a lot of new restrictions trickling in constantly of late. Some from lawmakers; some from bureaucrats. The belts have been tightened, and this is the fallout.

Multiple financial aid counselors have told me that eligibility is such a moving target that a lot more people are being denied, even denied after they were approved including having payments rescinded. Get financial aid counseling now, get the aid package finalized before anyone quits a job, and have a backup plan in case any part of it gets withdrawn.

That said: yes, it can be done. I'm doing it. It's scary to make such a gamble on your future, but it won't be any less scary later.

By the way, do you know that he can start nursing school right away? The last time I checked (admittedly several years ago), many programs were heavily impacted; waiting lists of up to 3 years. Who knows whether that's still the case. But budget cuts have forced many public colleges to reduce admissions and cut classes, so that's another reason to check on what's feasible.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:32 PM on September 22, 2011

I think that it is entirely doable.

Find out what sort of benefits he can get as a student --

- subsidized childcare
- cheaper health insurance
- live in student family housing

What is morally grey about this?
posted by k8t at 1:43 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's a fine idea and arguably the perfect time to do it. I am assuming your new child is an infant. His or her needs are small - food, clothing, shelter and health insurance - in these years in a way they are not when school clothing and shoes, paino lessons and after school daycare become essential. Your toddler will care not in the least about Goodwill clothes and 2nd hand toys. Its an ideal time to be broke in the name of bettering your family.

Look at your options as they stand with the money on the table, make sure you can afford the repayments, make sure that the baby has insurance.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:43 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Friends of mine in almost the same situation have done this. (DIY rather than adoption, laid off rather than choosing to quit) They found a very low rent with a housemate, she did cooking and housework for the housemate as part of their share of the rent. Each of them worked in various jobs part of the time he was in school. He now has a nursing degree and job.

As to the moral grey area, I assume you are referring to food stamps or WIC, which you wouldn't be eligible for now? Or maybe the idea of even taking a loan? At any rate, there is more demand for nurses than there are nurses to go around -- I don't see any moral grey area in his training to go into an essential healthcare field.

If he decides he hates it and quits school, the loans will come due and he won't have a degree. He should either go into this willing to do what it takes to get through school, or be willing to face the consequences of that. If he's not sure, he should find out more about it before quitting his job for school.

2-3 years sounds a little quick for going from first semester of college to completing a nursing degree. You might want to verify that is how the program there works, at many schools you spend a year or two completing your prerequisite courses and then apply to nursing school.

He may be able to find a job on the weekend for someone who needs attendants round the clock. It might even help with getting admitted to nursing school. He could also take a quick course to become an LPN and work in a hospital or nursing home. If he doesn't have class on the weekends, he might be able to pick up a few shifts then, as well as on school breaks. RNs seem to have a lot of opportunities to pick up extra work through placement agencies, but I don't know if LPNs have that same versatility.
posted by yohko at 3:04 PM on September 22, 2011

Also, the financial aid office may be able to adjust what they can offer you if you explain that you are making less money than last year and have a new baby.
posted by yohko at 3:07 PM on September 22, 2011

I did it, no kids but all the other stuff. It took me almost 4 years but I went part-time in the beginning getting pre-reqs. I make enough to easily keep up with loan payments plus as an RN there are programs that help pay back loans if you work in certain low income areas. Nursing school itself, well I found it pretty consuming and couldn't really work a lot. My school was crazy shitty though and only gave us 48 hour notices about when our clinicals were. (And where and they sent some of us to bfe). The bummer for me was getting that first job out of school. There is a nursing shortage, a shortage of experienced nurses. Ads here still say "no new grads". Start networking for a job before he graduates. But yeah, I would think that as long as you are working and can help, then go for it. Once you have some experience it's pretty easy to get a job.
posted by yodelingisfun at 8:27 PM on September 22, 2011

I think that it's actually much easier/cheaper to do this kind of thing when a child is school age or at least old enough for subsidized preschool programs and the like. Childcare is pricey, especially for infants. Many public schools have after-school programs on-site or you can get the local daycare to pick up your child from school.

Good luck!
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:40 PM on September 22, 2011

starbaby: "And just to clarify, my question is less about the math of "will this work?" and more about the "is this as crazy as it sounds to me?""

Well, now my story from the 90's is relevant.

It's absolutely not crazy. It will be a lot of work, it will be difficult, it will try your sanity and your marriage, but it is probably worth it.

When I was a freshman in college, my girlfriend got pregnant. When she decided to keep the baby, we got married. I dropped school for a semester to get on our feet, then came back with a vengeance.

I scheduled school during the week, and worked all weekend. I tried to do classes all on M-W-F, which usually meant 3 daytime classes and 1 or 2 once-a-week evening classes. Then on Sat and Sun I worked all day at the school cafeteria via work-study program. I would open at 5:30 am, work breakfast, then lunch, then dinner, then close it down at 9:30 pm. Then I'd pick up an evening or 2 during the week to get some extra hours. Tues and Thurs I would spend studying, or if I was caught up it would be family time, usually the zoo or a park. My wife worked only sporadically; her main duty was taking care of the baby. We used grants to pay tuition and book, loans to pay rent, and the paycheck for food.

It worked for me. I graduated, got a job, and my family is now firmly middle class. I have a desk job with prospects for advancement. A lot of people in the same situation would have dropped out of school to work full time, but would still be stuck working in back breaking menial jobs and living in the trailer park.

Note one: I got a degree, and a job, in IT. I was majoring in Sociology before, but when this happened I switched to something vocational. It should work fine for Nursing. Doing the same thing for a Humanities degree would be insane.

Note two: I was in Oklahoma, going to a state school. It should be similar for Arkansas. Low cost of living, less expensive schools, etc. I'm not sure the math would work out as well in a more expensive area (either coast) or at a private school.

Note three: I was poor when my kid was young and didn't know the difference, and when she got into school we were able to afford nicer things for her. I'm not sure how well an older child or teenager would respond to this.

Note four: I did take on a lot of debt during this time. I've been out of school 12 years and I'm still paying student loans.

But it was worth it. It hurt in the short term, but provided stability for my family in the long term.

Good luck.
posted by I am the Walrus at 7:41 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

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