When you think of a young college student, what image comes to mind? Is there a young child by their side?

One in 5 college students nationally is parenting, yet student parents are rarely mentioned in discussions about college success. Student parents have higher rates of debts and lower rates of degree completion due to many unaddressed barriers. However, this is not reflective of their academic achievement. On average, student parents have higher GPAs than their nonparenting peers.

In addition, young parents’ educational and career achievement has a critical multigenerational impact on family income. In Santa Fe County, 20 percent of children of color up to age 3 have a parent who is between the ages of 18 and 24. We need to start including young parents’ voices in every conversation about college and career attainment.

Expanding Opportunity for Young Families, an initiative of the Santa Fe Community Foundation, is a community collaborative project focused on supporting successful education and career training pathways for young parents of color. During a yearlong engagement and planning process, Santa Fe-area young parents shared their education and career aspirations.

Young parents described a desire to be role models for their children, support family finances, and bolster their children’s educational success. They also shared that navigating college admissions and financial aid processes, accessing early childhood education and care, family financial pressures for basic needs like stable housing and transportation, and a sense of isolation were key barriers to college entry, completion — and ultimately, access to higher-paying jobs.

In January, an initiative set out to create a system of support to address these needs, employing both financial and social capital by launching a health sciences degree cohort at Santa Fe Community College and several community-based organizations. The 18 young parents in the cohort take classes together, attend weekly meetings, work with community-based navigators, and share a designated academic advisor.

Ariana Coriz, a student parent in the cohort, describes her experiences this way: “We each have questions that we are afraid to ask, but being in the same classes has enabled us to speak up. In the weekly cohort meetings, we have learned the importance of self-care, built our professional networks through guest speakers, and learned about community resources like child care. Peer support across young parents has helped us to see that we are all experiencing the same struggles and share strategies to balance school, our children, and sleep.”

Several community navigators work with the students to support and focus on their needs as both students and parents.

“Additionally, our cohort academic advisor has swiftly responded to enrollment and financial aid challenges, connected me to college resources, and has taught me how to navigate different processes myself,” Coriz said. “Having both an academic advisor and community navigator who can coordinate with others on our behalf, provide emotional support, and is concerned with our well-being has helped me see I am not alone and can succeed in college.”

Financial supports include a book stipend per semester, monthly cohort meeting stipend and tuition assistance. “Being a single mother with past tuition debt, I was unable to reenroll in college, which caused me to stop pursuing my education. EOYF helped me pay my debt and continue my education. The monthly stipend has given me peace of mind that I can support my daughter without losing focus on school,” Coriz said.

Student parent success must be supported with a multisystem collaborative approach that aligns higher education, community-based organizations, early childhood programs, and financial resources. An upfront investment in both academic and nonacademic support can have long-lasting impact across generations.

Rachel Kutcher is the project director for the Opportunity for Young Families and Santa Fe Baby Fund. Ariana Coriz is from Santo Domingo Pueblo and is a single mom to a 2-year-old daughter.

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