The Day I Started College, I Also Became a Father

Higher Learning Advocates
Higher Learning Advocates
4 min readSep 26, 2022


By Noah Widmann

I will never forget my first day of college: the new people, the expensive textbooks, and receiving the news I was going to be a father. Before I could even set foot in my classes, I immediately withdrew from all of them, forfeiting a full-ride wrestling scholarship — and a debt-free college experience meant to save me from the low socioeconomic status I was linked to my entire life. Providing for my new family immediately took precedence over earning a degree.

My life started in Ocala, Florida, a small, rural town located in the central part of the state, where becoming a college graduate and leaving “home” seemed as rare as winning the lottery. But I knew I didn’t want that life for me and my daughter.

However, despite everything I had planned — to wrestle in college, major in nutrition or biology, and then work in healthcare — at 18 years old, I was flipping burgers and walking miles to work from the government housing I had known throughout my life. My future resembled one like most in my town: a father by 18 and impoverished for a lifetime.

For my daughter’s sake, I had to escape the cycle.

Parenting student Noah Widmann and his daughter.

After months of working for less than $8 an hour with my forearms covered in grease burns, I decided to use part of my paycheck to apply for an EMT program at my local community college. After completing the program, I got a job at my hometown fire department. Even while earning $19,000 a year, twice the amount of my single mother’s income growing up, life seemed great. I was able to look my daughter in the eyes knowing that I was doing all I could to help her succeed and live comfortably. But I knew I would not be satisfied staying in the ambulance forever; living a lifetime in the only town I had ever seen. I had to continue my education and fight to change the many issues I witnessed during each ambulance shift and throughout my childhood.

For two school years, I worked nights in the ambulance while attending community college in the mornings when I received the amazing news I had been accepted into Columbia University in New York City as a transfer student. After speaking with my family, we decided moving to the “big city” was best with the plan of coming home as often as possible and continuing to financially support my daughter. Receiving the Pell Grant while attending community college and Columbia, loans and scholarships, and the public programs that supported me as a child gave me the ability to complete a world-class education as the first in my family to attend any college.

Attending college in such an expensive city, however, came with its own challenges. Financial aid only goes so far for student parents. The misconception that parenting students have the same costs of living as their non-parenting peers is also common among faculty and administration. Fortunately, I was able to cover most of the gaps with a work-study job in the school gym, but I still fell short at times and it was frustrating. Examples included not having money when visiting home for Christmas, not being able to afford textbooks, and many other challenging obstacles I had to survive. One major barrier was not owning a laptop throughout undergrad. Campus computers were available at the school library, but I had to rely on the public library or seek help from a friend during holiday closures.

As a first-generation college student from a low-income background, I feel colleges fall short in support for students like me. And, these issues are compounded when the disadvantage of being a student parent is combined with the challenge of navigating today’s higher learning system.

Parenting student Noah Widmann.

Because of this, I believe that our government and our institutions should do more to support parenting students. Each semester shouldn’t feel like we are barely getting by and hoping to maintain support for ourselves and our families. Instead, our educational journeys should be treated as an investment in ourselves and our society. Furthermore, the Pell Grant must be expanded, SNAP benefits must be easier to access for young students, and our government should ensure that no young parent has to take on life-altering debt to better their family’s lot in life.

The importance of public assistance became clear to me as a child. In fact, my earliest memory is of my mother, a strong and hardworking woman who had a near-death experience in front of me when I was 4 years old. Without public health care in the form of Emergency Medical Services and Medicaid, my mother wouldn’t be here today. From that point forward, I understood how vital public programs are for so many people who have low incomes, and I learned a high tide lifts all boats.

Noah Widmann is in his last year at Georgetown Law and graduated from Columbia University in New York in 2020. After becoming a teenage father, Noah attended community college while working for the fire department and supporting his young family. Noah can be reached at



Higher Learning Advocates
Higher Learning Advocates

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