Hitting the Books and having a Baby

Last week, I began my search for campus resources for student parents, and my inquiries led me to the Student Parent HELP Center (SPHC) in 24 Appleby Hall. Established in 1967 as part of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs General College, SPHC has not abandoned its location. When many other underprivileged students lost their access to the University in the vortex created by âÄústrategic positioning,âÄù student parents were given a lifeboat âÄîas if adhering to the adage, âÄúwomen and children first.âÄù âÄúWhen General College was lost in 2006, I think what saved us was that we had been awarded substantial federal grant money,âÄù Susan Warfield, Student Parent HELP Center director, explained. âÄúAnd Jerry Reinhart. As the Vice Provost of Student Affairs, he really went to bat for us to remain a program.âÄù Warfield has been the director of SPHC for the last five years and has worked in the program for nine years. She estimates that there is a population of at least 1,000 low-income, student parent undergraduates at the University. SPHC services 300 to 400 of them. âÄúOur students are 70 to 80 percent single moms. They come from diverse cultural backgrounds. We have some dads and we have some married couples, but all are low-income undergrads,âÄù said Warfield. âÄúWe target undergrads because of the importance of getting that first degree. Any person with a four year degree is exponentially better off than someone without. For example, single moms with a college degree can increase their lifetime earning potential by 24 percent.âÄù I thought back to last week and how I had abused my 24-hour pregnancy ploy to justify skipping my afternoon classes and felt a pang of guilt. âÄúHow do you help students stay in school?âÄù I asked. âÄúâÄòIâÄôm breastfeeding,âÄô seems like the perfect excuse for missing a lab practicum.âÄù Warfield agreed. âÄúThe No. 1 factor in student parents dropping out of the University is no access to affordable child care. Child care can cost $5,000 a semester,âÄù she said. âÄúWe offer child care grants to alleviate these costs.âÄù Additionally, SPHC provides resources on available scholarships, housing and counseling. Within their office space, SPHC creates a comfortable hang-out, hosts weekly support meetings and organizes family-friendly activities. âÄúIf you were to walk into the center as a pregnant student, IâÄôd meet with you immediately,âÄù Warfield emphasized. âÄúYouâÄôd probably be confused and reeling from the news, so IâÄôd want to make sure you felt okay âĦ Knowing that your campus cares can make such a difference. Miracles happen here every day. IâÄôve seen some students deliver a baby and come back to school two weeks later.âÄù Suddenly, this hypothetical situation was becoming all too real to me. I would take my microeconomics midterm any day over delivering a wet, screaming baby. And if I had to pay $5,000 a semester for child care, I would rather take my kid to class. HeâÄôd get his higher education at birth and then, at 18, I would send him to preschool. Same difference, right? If I actually had a baby, I would name it Susan Warfield. âÄúTo me, the size of the population has nothing to do with whether or not itâÄôs right to serve them,âÄù Warfield concluded. Student parents might not be parading their strollers around campus, but it doesnâÄôt mean theyâÄôre not there. I thanked Warfield with a comment she probably hears daily, but maybe not from someone who is just a student and not a parent: âÄúAs a program, IâÄôm really glad youâÄôre here.âÄù For more information, visit www.sphc.umn.edu. Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at [email protected]