Students and staff gathered Tuesday on Northrop Plaza to raise awareness about student parenting and convey to teen parents that college is still an option.
The annual Visibility Day is organized by the University of Minnesota’s Student Parent Higher Education for Low-Income People Center that serves the more than 1,000 undergraduate University students parenting children.
Nearly a quarter of college students nationwide are parents, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy, an advocacy group for low-income people.
Yet Susan Warfield, program director for the Student Parent HELP Center, said the population often goes unnoticed.
“Serving student parents in higher ed. is like serving an invisible population of students,” Warfield said.
“There’s a constant need to raise visibility.”
In addition to raising awareness, the event brought groups of high school teen parents from around the metro area to tour the University and hear from students who are balancing college and parenting.
Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray spoke to the group about the birth of his twin sons, the sleepless nights that followed and the joys of being a father.
“Once you have your baby, life’s not over, it’s just beginning,” Gray said, as he encouraged the students to attend
Kelsey Joson, a member of the track team, walked by the event and offered to speak. She had her daughter on Sept. 2 and is already back in school.
“I’d say things are pretty hard right now, to be honest, but it is possible,” she said.
“I’d say the most important thing for you guys to do is finish school.”
Student parents face a widely different set of responsibilities and priorities than the “typical” college student.
“It’s completely different,” said nursing senior Jenny Case, a student parent as well. “It’s not about college first; it’s about fitting college in.”
In addition to classes and work, the students have the full-time job of raising one or more
“We just see sometimes that our students are absolutely exhausted,” Warfield said.
The event doesn’t aim to recruit teenage parents to the University but rather works to show them that college is an option.
Less than two percent of young teen mothers attain a college degree by age 30, according to a 2008 study cited by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
“What our goal is is just to expose them to a college experience in general,” said Melanie Soland, the student-parent counselor at the Student Parent HELP Center.
A Young Student Parent Support Initiative grant program that began in October 2011 expanded the programs at the University of Minnesota and the University of St. Catherine’s and started similar programs at eight other colleges.
A few of those colleges also had tables at the event, including Metropolitan State University and Century College.
There were also tables from various community organizations such as Boynton Health Service and Como Early Learning Center, as part of the Family Friendly Campus Resource Fair.