When The Students On Campus Have Kids Of Their Own : NPR Ed There are more than 2 million single parents enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. Some schools, like Wilson College in Pennsylvania, have figured out what it takes to help them succeed.
NPR logo

When The Students On Campus Have Kids Of Their Own

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/502003007/503902568" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
When The Students On Campus Have Kids Of Their Own

When The Students On Campus Have Kids Of Their Own

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/502003007/503902568" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The young women in our next story have labels - three labels - single, mother, college student. They're raising a child while going through school. The U.S. Department of Education estimates there are 2.6 million of these parents. NPR's Noah Adams has this story about one college that makes it work for single moms.

NOAH ADAMS, BYLINE: We have come to Chambersburg, Pa., to visit Wilson College, a liberal arts school with a large farm and equestrian program. And this year, 15 of the Wilson students are single mothers who live with their children in campus apartments. Wilson calls them single parent scholars. They do stand out.

HEATHER SCHULER: We have children running around the dining hall while everyone else is trying to eat.

MICHELLE ROGERS: Yeah. Yes.

ADAMS: That is Heather Schuler, sitting with us outside the dining hall. Heather has a two-year-old son. Her friend who's with us, Michelle Rogers, has a 4-year-old daughter. Michelle explains, if you've got kids this close by, you learn to talk in a different way.

ROGERS: I still sometimes have my mommy voice on. I don't even swear anymore. It's very hard to swear, so I'll say sugar, honey, iced, tea or, like, shut the front door (laughter).

SCHULER: I almost confronted someone at Target the other day for swearing, and my kid wasn't even with me.

(LAUGHTER)

ADAMS: Heather Schuler is now 25, a sophomore - psychology. She grew up right here in Chambersburg. Michelle Rogers, 27, a senior - environmental studies - is from Massachusetts. She'd been looking for help as a single mom when she discovered Wilson.

ADAMS: How'd you find out about it?

ROGERS: Google - I googled schools for single parents, mostly single moms, and I found maybe like five or 10. Yeah.

ADAMS: A lot of colleges and universities are now taking interest. On-campus housing seems to be the top attraction. Eastern Kentucky University is building a $10 million apartment complex for single moms and dads. Single fathers are now welcome at Wilson College, but none have enrolled yet. The two Wilson women we talked with ended up on the same floor of the dorm that's become their year-round home. Heather recalls the day she first walked in.

SCHULER: It's an amazing building. I didn't expect to have as much room as we did. I thought we were going to be packed in.

ROGERS: It's a cool community where you're not - you're not always on top of each other and always around each other. You can, like, go in your room, and the kids get to play together, which is awesome.

ADAMS: Michelle and Heather also share a life turning point. They were parents who became students.

SCHULER: I didn't really know that I wanted an education until my son was born. It was really my main motivator.

ROGERS: Before my daughter was born, I was kind of a mess (laughter). But when she was born, just like Heather, I wanted to change my life.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Unintelligible).

ADAMS: The Wilson campus, a weekend in late October, a 20th anniversary reunion for single mothers who have graduated. The program here started as an idea in the mind of the college president.

GWENDOLYN JENSEN: My name is Gwendolyn Jensen. I retired in 2001.

ADAMS: On a spring day those two decades ago, Gwendolyn Jensen was looking out her office window, admiring a limestone dormitory building. It had been shut down, empty. There had been low enrollment. Why not fill that up with moms and kids? She drove to Pittsburgh to visit the Eden Hall Foundation, asking for money. A woman there quickly replied, don't tell me anymore. How much do you need?

JENSEN: I was really afraid when we started the program. We sort of backed in. I mean, you know, we had this idea, and then all of a sudden, we had $400,000.

ADAMS: They spent much of the money rebuilding. The empty dorm would have two-room apartments, private bathrooms, kitchens to share on each floor. We take a walk around tour with Katie Kough. Katie's in charge of the single parent program. We see one of the laundry rooms with coinless machines and a poster on the wall with the rules.

KATIE KOUGH: My favorite line from laundry guidelines - no pet debris or horse blankets allowed in our machines (laughter).

ADAMS: The bottom floor of the dorm has been given over to childcare - lots of windows, a playground outside. If you're a mom - maybe late for class, and it's raining - you don't have to get out in traffic. Just take the elevator down to childcare. They even have nighttime hours.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I got one.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Six little pumpkins sitting in a row.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Row.

ADAMS: To go to Wilson College, the mothers do pay the full tuition, room and board. They can apply for loans and scholarships. But Katie smiles when she explains the real deal.

KOUGH: The biggest benefit is that we have an endowment to cover the cost of childcare. The childcare costs are nothing.

ADAMS: This next sound could be described as a reunion scream.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOMEN SCREAMING)

BRINITA RICKS: How are you?

ADAMS: Just outside the daycare center, we've encountered Brinita Ricks. Katie calls her an alumni superstar.

RICKS: How are you, Katie? (Laughter).

KOUGH: Good. How are you? This is her son, Troy, who was maybe this big when he was here.

RICKS: I started in 2008.

ADAMS: How old is your son?

RICKS: He's 10. We just took him on a tour down at the daycare. And he remembered all of his classes 'cause he pretty much started in the baby class and moved his way up to the big kids' class.

ADAMS: Brinita Ricks now lives in Washington, D.C., works as a computer scientist with the U.S. Census Bureau. Katie Kough, once Brinita's adviser, is now a friend. In the time Kough's been running this program, she's watched 38 women cross the stage at graduation.

KOUGH: They did it. Wasn't always pretty (laughter), and it wasn't always easy, but I'll tell you what. Some of these women are the strongest women that I know.

ADAMS: Noah Adams, NPR News.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

About