How Miami Dade College Is Supporting Student Parents
Miami Dade College, one of the largest higher education institutions in the United States, confers more associate degrees to Latino and Black students than almost any other institution in the country. The school is one of three community colleges participating in Expanding Opportunities for Young Families (EOYF), a five-year effort funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that prepares parents ages 18–29 for educational and financial success.
To better serve young parents, Miami Dade College recently created Mission North Star as an EYOF site. The pilot program helps young parents who are students pursue credentials, associate or bachelor’s degrees while balancing the responsibilities of parenthood.
Understanding the Needs of Student Parents
According to a recent Child Trends report, 1 in 4 community college students are parents. Most of this group has children under the age of 6 and are more likely to need help with necessities such as food and housing compared to non-parenting students. While they are highly motivated students, these parents must balance a unique set of responsibilities that can lead to their studies being derailed.
Mission North Star was designed to help student parents stay enrolled and make progress toward degrees and credentials at Miami Dade College. Using EOYF approaches, Mission North Star strives to aid young parents by:
- promoting parent engagement and leadership;
- eliminating enrollment challenges;
- offering tailored support;
- engaging community organizations and;
- driving broader changes across the institution.
Focus groups and surveys that explored the challenges faced by young parents in Miami-Dade County informed the program’s design. Organizers worked closely with a committee of young parent leaders to ensure their programming continued to meet parents’ needs.
The college works with community-based partners in fields such as workforce development, education, health care and housing. By leveraging on-the-ground connections to local communities, the college can reach additional parents. To meet them where they are, the college also provides high school diploma or English as a second language programs to help students prepare for postsecondary education.
“While student parents can sometimes feel invisible on campus, it’s important that they know they aren’t alone,” says Quanic Fullard, senior associate with the Foundation. “Through Mission North Star, Miami Dade College is creating a blueprint for ways colleges and universities across the country can listen to and support parents who are students.”
Strategies for Supporting Student Parents
The college has adopted several strategies to increase its support of parents:
Collecting Data on Student Parents
Miami Dade College allows students to identify themselves as parents on intake forms, providing the school with valuable data on its students and enabling it to better meet their individual needs.
Connecting Parents Through Peer Networks
Parent ambassadors used peer networks to lead outreach efforts, such as:
- increasing parents’ sense of belonging on campus;
- developing a website for student parents to share resources;
- boosting awareness of parents on campus through social media; and
- leading virtual gatherings for parents where they can have conversations in a safe space.
They also created a program specifically designed for student fathers and the partners of mothers enrolled in Mission North Star to develop connections and share parenting knowledge.
Meeting Families’ Needs
Miami Dade College provides students with access to basic needs services through SingleStop – the college’s student referral service – or other community partners. Unfortunately, student parents are not always aware of or able to access these services, so student parent success coaches were brought in to help parents identify sources of academic support, such as:
- advising and tutoring;
- housing; and
Coaches also work with parents to develop plans that map out their class schedules and commitments against job and family time constraints. During special registration days, student parents have a chance to connect with admissions, financial aid and other supportive services departments all in one place.
Offering Mental Health Services
The program expanded free mental health counseling and peer-led parent support groups on campus.
Student Parent Success Stories
Akeila Hardy, who is currently completing her bachelor’s degree in nursing and working as a registered nurse, says Mission North Star helped her secure childcare and diapers for her young son and figure out how to pay for school. The staff member she worked with “just kept coming through for me,” Hardy said. “She literally gave me hope.” Hardy has since helped peers navigate the school’s student parent services and feel more connected to the campus.
Khalil Peters, who enrolled at Miami Dade after the birth of his second child, says he found the array of scholarships and forms confusing. Through Mission North Star, he had assistance navigating the scholarship process and took advantage of workshops on juggling the demands of home, work and school. Peters was even able to open his first savings account because of the program. Today, he works as a crew member at Eglin Air Force Base and attends online classes at Miami Dade College full time as he pursues a career in forensic science.
“Mission North Star gave me the financial resources I needed to afford college and connected me to programs that helped me grow as a parent,” says Peters. “They’ve taught me how to manage my time and handle the pressures of being a full-time student, employee and father.”
Looking to the Future
Using the lessons from Mission North Star, Miami Dade College hopes to integrate and expand EOYF approaches throughout its eight campuses. This includes:
- working with community partners to hire and train more student parent success coaches, now known as “care coordinators,” with an emphasis on family goal setting;
- supporting local efforts to increase access to childcare and early childhood education;
- expanding community partnerships to increase services for both parents and children;
- offering free mental health counseling for student parents as well as referrals to free counseling and trauma therapy services for their children;
- expanding the local community of student parents by offering virtual and in-person spaces for parents and their children; and
- addressing traumatic experiences in workshops and parenting programs.