News Release

Evaluation shows U of M Student Parent HELP Centers' positive effects on undergraduate student parent academic outcomes

Mother and daughter holding hands.

An in-depth evaluation of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ Student Parent HELP Center (SPHC) by Wilder Research and funded by Raise the Barr shows that undergraduate student parents who interact with center staff and access its programs are significantly more likely to graduate, remain enrolled continuously, and have a higher cumulative grade point average than student parents who completed SPHC intake but never used its services. In addition, when compared to the national average for all student parents, students who accessed services at SPHC have significantly higher graduation rates.

“Pregnant and parenting students make up nearly a quarter of all undergraduate students in Minnesota and across the U.S., and are among the least visible student populations in higher education,” said Susan Warfield, MSW, LICSW, the SPHC program director and principal investigator on the project. “We believe these findings have far reaching implications for higher education as all institutions aim to support not only student parents, but students across all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.”

In addition to being parents, student parents are often from underrepresented backgrounds and might experience challenges that may affect access to and success in college, such as having gaps in their academic career or experiencing generational poverty.

Through the SPHC, student parents can access support groups, receive a broad range of referrals for academic and family needs, and apply for child care and emergency assistance grants managed by the SPHC. It’s one of the few programs in the nation that is non-residentially based (i.e., a student parent doesn’t have to live on campus to access services). In addition, student parents are not mandated to participate and all center staff are social workers or family educators.

Researchers involved in the study examined the academic outcomes of 1,549 undergraduate student parents who voluntarily registered for services with the SPHC between 2000 and 2018. This is one of the first comprehensive, third-party evaluations of a campus-based, university student parent program and adds to what has historically been a limited pool of student parent research overall.

The study found:

  • students who had high levels of interaction with center staff were more likely to graduate (74%) compared to students who only completed SPHC intake (56%); 
  • year-to-year retention rates for student parents with high levels of engagement with the center were 77%, in comparison to 57% of students who only completed SPHC intake; and
  • students with low (2.89 GPA), medium (2.83 GPA) and high (2.94 GPA) engagement had higher cumulative GPAs compared to students who completed only SPHC intake (2.65 GPA). 

While this study utilized a control group of intake-only SPHC students, student parent graduation rates nationally are lower than for all SPHC users. 

Among the researchers’ recommendations for the SPHC and other university student programs across the country are to:

  • engage undergraduate student parents in multiple ways, including through parent-specific community- and campus-based referrals, programming and financial resources;
  • support availability of trained staff to advise and mentor undergraduate student parents; and
  • provide funding for programs that support undergraduate student parents’ holistic needs for guidance and support, beyond solely financing child care grants.

“This is an important step forward in understanding how all universities and colleges can support parenting students by meeting their academic and family needs — needs which are impossible to separate from each other,” said Minnesota Vikings player Anthony Barr, who co-founded Raise the Barr to assist single parents during their time as a student. “By funding this research and supporting the Student Parent HELP Center, we are on a path toward ensuring students who are pregnant or parenting have access to post-secondary education and to resources throughout their college career.”

Find the full Wilder Research report here.

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