College is tough and resources are tight; almost every college student understands what that means. Ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have long been a cheap food choice for college students to make ends meet. Now, imagine raising a child while faced with the same circumstance. Suddenly, your less than impressive budget is stretched even thinner, your food lasts only half the time, your time is more precious, your sleep is cut in half and there is now a lengthy list of expenses that you have never imagined before. Student parents are tackling two of the toughest obstacles a person has to face: college and parenthood. Luckily, St. Kate’s student parents have an ally in their journey.

“Mom, let’s go home. I’m tired,” said Michael, my then nine-year-old son.

We were at the public library, it was almost 8 p.m. My personal laptop had stopped working and I desperately needed to get my homework done.

“Just a few more minutes, okay?” I said to him. He responded with a long, drawn out sigh.

I tried to focus, knowing that the library would close in 15 minutes. I finished and turned to announce to him that we could finally head home. I found him slumped over in his chair, fast asleep. I remembered promising him tacos for dinner but, unfortunately, time was not on our side that night. The Easy-Mac, which was supposed to be a snack at 4 p.m. unintentionally ended up as dinner. Moments like these are some of the lower times for me as a student parent.

I am not alone in this struggle. According to the Lumina Foundation,  student parents make up 26 percent of the national college population, with women making up 71 percent of all student parents. Compared to regular students, student parents are usually poorer, which can lead to a whole host of hurdles. Single parent students, on average, spend at least 30 hours per week providing dependent care to their child. This can lead to time constraints when it comes to completing homework assignments and having a job. One would suggest hiring a nanny or placing the child in daycare. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current average daycare rate is $9.99 per hour. Among single student parents, 88 percent of them have incomes at or below the poverty line. This creates a circular dilemma, as attending college puts a constraint on time so there are fewer hours to work. Less hours worked means less money. Not as much money means limited access to daycare. Limited access to daycare means less time to dedicate to other commitments.

Access and Success was started at St. Kate’s many years ago by a group of caring faculty members. They started noticing the struggles of student parents and wanted to create a program to help support the academic success of these students. Beth Hamer, the coordinator for Access and Success, has worked there for 17 years.

Access and Success office, located on the fourth floor in the Couer de Catherine.

“Our goal is to have a relationship with student parents and help connect them to resources so they can complete their degree,” says Hamer. “We have found that our approach of establishing relationships with student parents plus resources equal stronger academic retention.”

According to Joan Demeulus, Associate Director of Access and Success, over 300 students use the services every year. A student parent has a higher risk of leaving college without a degree: 56 percent of student parents leave college within 6 years without obtaining a degree, compared to only 29 percent of regular students. In St. Kate’s Access and Success, 83 percent of students who were active in the program have graduated or continue to be enrolled. These students also achieved the average GPA of the overall student body which was a B-, or 2.67, or above. This program at St. Kate’s have been proven to help student parents achieve academic success.

A St. Kate’s student parent holds her child at her graduation ceremony.

Participation in the program is available to all student parents, regardless of income, the age of the child or degree level. Access and Success has child-friendly study spaces and lactation rooms. They also offer free crisis childcare, discounted tickets for events, assistance with unemployment, emergency loans, and grants. Some of the biggest financial emergencies for students are; childcare, gas, car repairs, and regrettably, grocery money.

For a more thorough list of all the services, please click here.

Access and Success is funded in part by grants. It is currently receiving a grant through the Affordable Care Act umbrella, which the Minnesota Department of Health dispenses; however, that grant expires this July. There is a bill before the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee called HF 1577. This bill was proposed by Minnesota House Representative Ilhan Omar. The bill seeks to require all postsecondary educational institutions to provide information to pregnant students and student parents. It will also appropriate grants to fund activities and services to support pregnant and student parents. This bill will make sure all Minnesota student parents in college have a program similar to Access and Success.

Hamer supports having a similar program at all colleges.

“I’ve had the pleasure and honor of seeing so many student parents graduate over my 17 years here, against big odds,” says Hamer. “I encourage any student parent who is struggling to reach out to us and we will find whatever resources we can to help them with whatever issues they face.”

She offers student parents some words of wisdom.

“Remember that although this college journey seems long, it is relatively short compared to the course of your lifetime and your children’s lifetime,” says Hamer. “I know it’s possible because I’ve seen it.”

Access and Success is located on the fourth floor in Coeur de Catherine. Their office hours are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If you are a student parent and are not receiving any emails from Access and Success, please contact Beth Hamer at bahamer@stkate.edu or call 651-690-6894.