Insights and Action for Student Parent Success

This summit builds on ATD’s founding values of equity and centering the student voice in everything.  – Dr. Karen A. Stout

Last week Achieving the Dream hosted the first ATD Student Parent Success Summit, a virtual event where experts in the higher education field explored the challenges facing students who are parenting while pursuing a degree and shared practical strategies colleges and communities can implement to better support these students.

There was a particular focus on socioeconomic and racial equity, as speakers discussed the outsize impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on student parents, who are juggling remote learning with additional challenges.

ATD’s president and CEO Dr. Karen A. Stout kicked off the Summit with a brief welcome session, where she played a video about Antoinette, a student mother ATD interviewed in 2019 as part of the Community College Women Succeed initiative.

Lifting up students and their families

David Croom, assistant director for postsecondary achievement and innovation of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, began his keynote address by sharing his personal story with summit attendees. His mother attended community college while raising a family, and Croom said that the college’s support of her success directly contributed to his own potential and upward trajectory. His story was just one example of how supporting student parents boosts mobility “two generations at a time.”

“Supporting student parents is a powerful way to dismantle structural racism while achieving far-reaching societal gains.” ­– David Croom

Following Croom, three student parents shared their stories, digging into the challenges they have faced as well as the support and encouragement that have contributed to not only their success but that of their family.

“My experience was very stressful but rewarding,” said Rashika Lee, who attended West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology in Michigan. “Without a great support system, I don’t know that I’d have been able to do it.”

Jesus Benitez, who attended City University of New York shared, “I always felt like I had to work harder than the students I saw as ‘normal’ college students… It was exhausting.” But he found community and support through the CUNY fatherhood academy. “They never gave up on me.”

Yoslin Amaya Hernandez, an alumna of Montgomery College, Generation Hope, and current University of Maryland student, talked about the limited access to financial aid resources that she has as a DACA recipient. “Childcare is the most essential thing that we all need as parents,” she said, but she has not been able to secure consistent childcare for her family because of financial need. Hernandez also addressed the isolation that student parents can feel at community colleges, saying, “I don’t know a single student parent at my campus right now.”

Strategies for success and mobility

The remaining sessions involved deep dives into programs, policies, and practices that institutions can implement to directly benefit student parents on their campuses.

In the discussion on programs, Nicole Lynn Lewis, CEO of Generation Hope and a member of the Community College Women Succeed Advisory Group, stressed that “student parent work is racial equity work.” Panel participants discussed not only the importance of equal access and support, but fostering a sense of belonging for student parents at community colleges that directly contributes to their success.

In the deep dive on policies, we heard from two college presidents: Dr. Lynda Villanueva, president of Lee College, and Dr. Richard Rhodes, president of Austin Community College. In a changing, remote learning environment, Dr. Rhodes asked: “How do we provide learning at a time where students can take advantage of it?” He stressed the need for colleges to develop flexible scheduling so that student parents have the time to do well as students.

Dr. Villanueva echoed the importance of flexibility, and suggested colleges should take more factors than merely into GPA into account when evaluating student qualifications. “Being flexible is not about lowering standards, it’s about being equitable,” she said.

In the final deep dive of the day, representatives from student services teams at two different colleges shared practices they had implemented and scaled throughout their institutions to support student parents. Ida Lombardozzi, director of services for students with children at Portland State University, told Summit participants about the school’s “family-friendly commencements,” events where students’ families and children are invited to participate. This kind of event “helps children see their own path to education,” Lombardozzi said.

Ann Lyn Hall, director of student support services Central New Mexico Community College, discussed a digital resource that has helped students make sure they’re taking the right courses to stay on track for completion. She also addressed the importance of making the student parent voice heard on campus. When it comes to effectively advocating for students with children, “It’s students telling their own stories.”

An ongoing commitment

The Student Parent Success Summit built on the continuing work of Community College Women Succeed, an initiative to identify and promote effective strategies that increase success for student parents and women students community college. For more information about Community College Women Succeed, including a list of the Advisory Group members who played a significant role in the success of the Summit, click here.

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