Student parents find support

The HELP Center is among the organizations that provide assistance to student parents.

Betsy Graca

Kristin Morris discovered she was pregnant at 19 years old while attending the University.

Two months into her first semester of college, Morris had a major decision to make: drop out or attempt the challenging task of earning a degree while raising a child.

Morris is not alone in her story, as there are an estimated 1,000 students on campus who are parents.

The Student Parent Higher Education for Low-Income People Center and Student Parent Association co-hosted the third annual Student Parent Visibility Day on Tuesday in the St. Paul Student Center.

More than 200 pregnant teens attended the event to learn about academic opportunities after high school. Since last year’s event, the attendance doubled.

Representatives from several community colleges and programs within the University, including career planning and the Learning Abroad Center, were present to speak with teens.

Susan Warfield, director of the HELP Center, said there is no way of knowing how many students actually have children because parental status cannot be disclosed during the admissions process.

The center, founded in 1967, was established to support students who need financial, academic and social guidance while caring for a child.

“Our students don’t have a moment to themselves,” Warfield said. “They have another human being to take care of.”

The HELP Center, one of few programs of its kind across the country, provides undergraduate students of lower income with childcare grants to aid with all the financial expenses that come with having a child.

About 400 students – both mothers and fathers – use the services provided by the center, which include not only financial help, but also a supportive community for parents.

Students who wish to go on to graduate school can continue involvement with the center, but are no longer eligible for grants.

There is a growing trend of student-parents who go on to a graduate program, Warfield said.

Morris, who now is a human resource development graduate student and has a second child, said she graduated with a 3.8 GPA.

“Having a child is a major challenge, but it’s a challenge you can get through,” she said.

Morris is the former co-chairwoman of the SPA, which started in 2003.

Both married and single parents, about 75 women and 25 men, make up SPA – the group that provides social support, babysitting swaps and advocacy work.

Kristina Erstad, current SPA president, helped establish the group when she became a mother her junior year and was looking for a community.

“It’s hard to fit in with other social groups because you have a totally different life,” she said. “You have responsibilities that are pretty big.”

Because student parents are forced to mature quickly, Warfield said their time management skills are often more polished than other undergraduates.

Emily Schmall, an education graduate student and SPA officer, had her daughter as a sophomore and also worked part time during her undergraduate education.

“The biggest challenge is making time for everything,” she said. “But as student parents we become really good at fitting everything in.”

Schmall said it’s especially important to attend college so she can be a positive role model for her children. College will give parents and their families more opportunities and a better life, she said.

Warfield said statistically, a college degree is more beneficial to single mothers than any other demographic.

Schmall said though going to college while raising a child is a lot of work, it’s been incredibly rewarding.

“Being in college and having a kid has really shaped the way I am and how I face different challenges,” she said.