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Minnesota Department of Health Treasurer

Meeting the Unique Needs of Expectant and Parenting College Students (2014)

Developed in 2010, the Minnesota Student Parent Support Initiative is a post-secondary educational program that offers support to expectant and parenting college students and their children in nine colleges and universities across Minnesota. The program was developed to address the unique challenges faced by this population, including high risk for drop out, unplanned pregnancies, unhealthy behaviors, and difficulties preparing for future careers. Specifically, the program established goals to help expectant and parenting students accomplish their post-secondary education goals at institutions of higher education, maintain positive health and well-being for themselves and their children, and increase the capacity of institutions of higher education for serving expectant and parenting teens and their children.

The program, which currently serves almost 2,000 student parents and their children, offers a wide range of resources, including emergency financial assistance for child care, utilities, food, and rent; parenting education classes; social support groups and health education classes (i.e. smoking cessation, family planning, healthy eating, etc.); and screening for students for intimate partner violence, depression, tobacco use, and alcohol. The program is customizable so that participants choose their level of participation based on their individual needs.

In addition to offering direct services to the students, some participating institutions of higher education advocate on behalf of students by assessing if the schools’ policies can be modified to meet the needs of this population. For example, they advocate for lactation rooms on campus and for excused absences when parents need to care for their sick children.

The program has made significant strides in its short existence. They have increased their recruitment on campuses by attending campus orientation events, appointing expectant and parenting students as mentors to new students, and working closely with professors and healthcare clinic staff to increase referrals to the program. Specifically, Winona State University’s branch of the program employed a unique strategy of partnering with its child care center to increase cross referral between the two programs and ensure that student parents are offered comprehensive support.

At a state level, the program has built partnerships with the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to recruit future prospective students who are enrolled in job-training programs or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Contact Information

Elizabeth A. Gardner, M.A.
Grant Coordinator
Minnesota Department of Health
Community and Family Health Division

Print the full success story here.

Relationships + Resources = Retention of Young Student Mothers in Post-Secondary Education (2013)


Since 1993, St. Catherine University in Minnesota has been operating the Access and Success program, an innovative retention program focused on supporting student parents. Program staff are licensed social workers who assist students in building professional relationships and connect students to internal and external resources to meet their needs and the needs of their families.

The program identified some unique challenges and risk factors for this population: limited emotional and financial support, limited experiences navigating college life, and first generation college students frequently raised in single-parent homes. Nationally, fewer than two percent of student mothers complete a college degree by age 30. At St. Catherine’s, this population of mothers in the traditional baccalaureate program had a retention rate at least 10 percent lower than other student parent groups.

Using its Office of Adolescent Health funding, Access and Success piloted Steps to Success, a program aimed at improving the academic success of these young, at-risk student mothers. The pilot goals focus on academic success, financial stability, social connectedness, physical and emotional health, and leadership development. To participate, interested students were required to complete an application process. In 2009, eight low-income, single parent students between the ages of 17-22, in their first or second year of college, were selected to participate in the pilot. Due to the success of the program efforts, eight additional mothers were added to the program in 2012.

The program is tailored to help meet the unique needs of young student mothers in four ways:

  • Bi-weekly meetings. Students learn practical information about parenting, finances, studying techniques, and balancing their complex roles as students, parents, and employees. Students are taught how to manage the expectations of academia, including how and when to approach their professors. They also attend small group presentations on topics such as stress management and sleep to support their physical and mental health.
  • Leadership training. Students must complete a leadership component as part of the Steps to Success program. They can fulfill this requirement by volunteering in Mother-to Mother, a program where they share their personal story with high school teen parents, encouraging them to continue their education. Participants can also fulfill the requirement through involvement in campus student government, speaking to state government officials about the needs of student parents, or leading a lunch meeting for other student parents. This requirement helps students build confidence and autonomy, skills that benefit them in the classroom and beyond.
  • Referrals to appropriate resources. Program staff refer students to resources they need, both on and off campus, such as assistance with custody proceedings and securing child support.
  • Annual stipend for non-tuition expenses. Balancing the multiple demands as both students and parents, many of the mothers would not be able to complete program requirements without the $1,350 stipend as an incentive.

Efforts have been made to demonstrate the effectiveness of the initial pilot program. Within the University, the retention rate of program participants was consistently higher than those of a comparison group of student parents with similar demographics and academic levels. Also, the grades of those students participating in the program were higher than those of the comparison group, with participating students less likely to receive a C- or lower in their classes. Students participating in the program were also more likely to complete individual courses; only seven participants withdrew from a course compared to 11 in the comparison group.

Contact Information

Elizabeth A. Gardner, MA
Minnesota Department of Health
Community and Family Health Division
Maternal and Child Health Section
Student Parent Grant Coordinator
Phone: (651) 201-5411

Joan Demeules, LSW, MA
St. Catherine University
Associate Director, Counseling and Student Development
Director, Access and Success Program
Phone: (651) 690-7870

Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on January 26, 2016