So what can colleges do to help these students? Here are seven ideas from local schools and teen moms:
1) Recruit these young parents: Quite often when a woman becomes pregnant, people stop talking to her about attending college — that is, if they were even pushing the idea in the first place. But a college degree is what could help her get a better-paying job and support her child.
Prince George’s Community College works closely with the school at the St. Ann’s Infant and Maternity Home. In the fall, a recruiter visits the school to give recruitment and financial aid presentations.
In the spring, she coordinates a campus tour for the young mothers. She stays in touch with the students, helping them fill out applications for financial aid and the Herb Block scholarship, which covers tuition, fees, some transportation and daycare expenses.
”The efforts do not end there,” said Samantha Garcia Lopez, coordinator of recruitment and community relations, in an e-mail. “Whenever I have a teen mother come in as a prospective student, I try to personally help them through the enrollment process... I was not a teen mother, but I was a young mother and I personally understand the challenges and fears these young women face.”
2) Provide as much financial aid as possible: Tuition isn’t the only cost of going to college — there are also books to buy, fees to pay and transportation costs, just to name a few. Plus, every hour that a parent spends studying is one hour he or she is not working. It takes a lot of motivation to keep going to class when you have a family to feed.
The first step is easy: Make sure that teen parents have filled out the FAFSA (likely, as independent of their parents) and are receiving federal financial aid. Several of the Generation Hope scholars have not yet done this and are missing out on thousands in grants.
“For young, ambitious women there’s a stigma” attached to asking for financial help, Generation Hope founder Nicole Lynn Lewis told me over brunch one morning in October. “It’s a thing to not depend on too many public services.”
Beyond that, some schools have set up scholarships that will cover things like transportation or childcare. The College of Southern Maryland provides a number of scholarships for young parents, including the Bradley M. Gottfried “Against All Odds “Scholarship.
And the help can be less formal than a scholarship with an application process. At Trinity Washington University, the Dean of Student Services often gives young mothers Metro fare cards or meal passes for the dining hall. Earlier this semester, Generation Hope leaders heard that one of their students was on the verge of dropping a math class at Montgomery College — because she couldn’t afford a textbook that cost more than $100. Lewis rushed to campus to buy the book for her.
If your campus does not have a childcare center, then help your students apply for local programs or childcare vouchers for low-income parents. But many community colleges and four-year universities have begun to build childcare centers on campus to accommodate the children of faculty and students.
The St. Charles Children’s Learning Center at the College of Southern Maryland reserves 25 percent of its spaces for the children of students, who are given priority enrollment and reduced rates. The center accepts social services childcare vouchers and offers three scholarships that can offset the cost.
4) Support your teen parents: Sometimes that just means smiling and asking how their day is going. Being a teen mother can be lonely, as it’s difficult to make new friends when you have a baby to care for. And some teen moms have been so beaten down by the system as they applied for free prenatal care and WIC or tried to get child support through the court system, that they are afraid to seek out help.
Some ideas for doing this institutionally: Create a student-led support group, match young parents with volunteer mentors, offer a parenting session at freshman orientation, officially add “help teen parents” to the title of someone in the student affairs office, or build a single Web page for teen parents that includes links to all the resources they might need.
During freshman orientation at Trinity, there is a program for mothers that focuses on balancing school, parenting and work. The school also offers a support group for mothers that covers topics like time management, positive parenting, effective discipline, sharing resources, managing money, self-care, stress management, and developing and maintaining a support system.
5) Help with housing: Along with childcare, housing can also be a challenge for students who are no longer living with their parents. In addition to helping teen parents find subsidized housing in the community, some residential schools also offer affordable “family housing” on campus. This sort of service can not only help undergraduates who are parents, but also older graduate students and young faculty members.
6) Offer a variety of class options: Many young parents have found that online classes work better into their schedules than showing up to campus a few times a week — but that can mean missing out on the traditional college experience. Colleges of all sorts have started to offer a wider range of classes, including hybrid classes (a mix of online and in-the-classroom) and more late-night, weekend and summer courses. They are also setting up satellite campuses that might be closer to where students live or work.
7) Don’t underestimate or pity teen parents: When I sat down to interview one of the Generation Hope mentors, who years ago put herself through Trinity while parenting, one of my first questions was something along the lines of: Wow, how did you do it? She explained that compared to all of the other challenges she had faced in her life, going to college was one of the easiest. She was focused and determined to get an education. She just needed the opportunity and resources.
Lewis has written a book about her teen pregnancy and parenting while earning a degree at the College of William and Mary, called, “Glori: A Different Story.” In it she writes:
“Surviving — and succeeding — was really an obsession. I worked so relentlessly that sometimes it felt like my mind and body never rested. In school, I had to excel because I wasn’t doing it for my parents, I was doing it for myself and my daughter.”
What else can colleges do to help? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.