Single parents get help in Twin Cities colleges

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Ximena Anderson is an ordinary college student; she spends most of her days juggling tests, running to classes, and planning her future. Ximena is certain that all her hard work will pay off when she reaches her goal of becoming a heart surgeon. However, Ximena has a responsibility that the majority of college students don’t — a 16-month-old daughter. Ximena is one the eight percent of single student parents in Minnesota colleges and universities.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Young Student Parent Support Initiative recently awarded $2.7 million to ten metro colleges and universities to effectively address the unique health and education needs of student parents like Ximena. Studies have also shown higher education is linked to improved health outcomes and increased earnings in a person’s lifetime. Students with unplanned pregnancies are less likely to earn a college degree. The grants are being used to create and expand programs that support student parents ages 19-25 in achieving their education goals and maintaining health and wellbeing for themselves and their children.

Saint Catherine University, St.Paul/Minneapolis and Century College, White Bear Lake were two of the ten grant recipients. (The others: Dakota County Technical College, Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College, Leech Lake Tribal College, Metropolitan State University, Pine Technical College, Riverland Community College, St. Cloud State University, Winona State University.) Saint Catherine received funds to expand its 19-year Access and Success program, while Century is in the early stages of building its Young Student Parent Support Initiative.

On a recent Monday at Century, Anne Turnbull, project director, was pleased with the turnout at a new Lunch and Learn series. Six Century students and two of their children gathered to hear a presentation on Family Emergency Preparedness. The Lunch and Learn is one component of the program, which will eventually include a child-friendly space with computers, a fridge to store breast milk , access to social services, emergency assistance, healthy cooking classes, and Parents as Student Support Group (PASS).

Lunch and Learn Event, 2/27/12, Speaker Daniel Olson and Century Students

Both programs have social workers on staff who complete a thorough intake to identify individual education, social, and health needs. Saint Catherine program director Joan Demeules said, “we really try to meet students where they’re at.” She believes that when the stigma of being a young parent is removed, and strong and supportive relationships are built, students can feel confident that they have a trusted resource when challenges arise. The program has the capability to link students to many services that can remove some of the barriers to completing their degree. Issues they address include emergency daycare assistance, food or transportation assistance, domestic violence, access to health services, and balancing school and personal responsibilities.

Saint Catherine hopes to expand and strengthen its program in the areas of health education, community outreach, a Mother-to-Mother leadership development program (where students share their story with parenting teens), one-to-one student/social worker retention program, and emergency childcare. The university also offers classes and speakers on a variety of topics relevant to parents, child friendly study spaces, and a lactation room.

Demeules hopes that the development and expansion of student parent programs across the state will create national attention and action. She believes having successful student parent support programs and access to education is vital in ensuring a path out of poverty. Ximena wants people to know that, “being a parent is deeply enriching and adds perspective, rather than being a burden. I believe that if one truly wants to accomplish a goal, there is always a way. Being a parent just means I have to plan more strategically and work harder — two things that can only help me grow as a person.”