A Lifeline for Mother and Child

A Lifeline for Mother and Child

By Sara Berhow

The Access and Success program started 24 years ago, serving St. Catherine University students with parents. Joan Demeules, program director has been involved from the start. Under her leadership, the Access and Success team has put St. Kate’s at the forefront of supporting students parents in higher education.

Q: What is the goal of Access and Success?

We initially launched Access and Success as a retention program — keeping students with children enrolled at St. Kate’s — and that remains our overarching goal today. We want student parents to be successful. They’re very motivated and willing to sacrifice. This program provides resources, support, encouragement and guidance to follow through on their commitment to a college education.

Q: Who does Access and Success support?

Access and Success started out serving single parents on the Minneapolis campus in the 1992–93 academic year. Over time, the program has evolved. In 2000, it expanded to serve all undergraduate students, then, a few years ago, to include all student parents across all degree levels, from certificates to doctorate degrees.

Q: What are some challenges that can derail these learners?

One of the biggest is time management. In addition, many of the students we work with are the first in their family to attend college and need help navigating their way.

Financial stress and childcare needs are two other common challenges, and they’re part of the reason Access and Success is so valuable. We have emergency grants, and we connect student parents with resources in the community to alleviate financial worries.

To help with childcare, we have child-friendly study spaces on both campuses; our student parents use them very creatively. We offer a childcare grant program and have a book that lists students who are willing to babysit children of Katies. It’s often the small needs we can fill that keep someone on track.

Q: Who are student parents at St. Kate’s?

We have about 850 student parents, and each of our groups is different. Our youngest and most challenged group is the day baccalaureate students. They tend to come directly from high school — young moms with young kids.

The Steps to Success mentoring program supports them, and we’ve seen amazing results in retention. We’ve boosted their graduation rates to the level of our general student population. Our graduation rate for Steps to Success participants stands at 70 percent. Nationally, it’s only 35 percent for that demographic.

The Evening/Weekend/Online population is our largest group. They tend to be a little older, have a bit more money because many work, and their children are often older. They don’t spend as much time on campus, making outreach more challenging. Certificate and associate students also tend to be older and our most ethnically diverse.

Q: What drives them to attend college?

Student parents have tremendous potential. They’re really driven to create a better life for their children. It’s clear from our surveys and national data that when a person has a child, it becomes an opportune time to make life changes.

Q: How do you identify and reach student parents?

That’s been a challenge across this country for at least 20 years. St. Kate’s is ahead of the curve, not only in finding out who these students are, but also in delivering the services they need to succeed. Access and Success is a national model for this work, and we continually advocate for shifts in the identification system so more students can benefit from it.

Q: How do our student parents impact the community?

Our Mother-to-Mother program is a perfect example. In it, student parents share their stories with pregnant and parenting teens, explaining what their lives look like as college students with children, yet reassuring those young women that college is something they can make happen. Our students emerge as relevant role models, develop new leadership skills and deepen their commitment to completing their own education.

Q: How does a parent’s life change after she graduates from college?

It’s so profound, I’m not sure we can even wrap our brains around it. We have alumnae doing amazing things and they have such impactful stories. They change their life trajectory.

Jerrisha Goines ’18, with son Omarr Johnson, uses the Access and Success Program. She is one of the nearly 850 student parents who attend St. Kate’s.

Jerrisha Goines ’18, with son Omarr Johnson, uses the Access and Success Program. She is one of the nearly 850 student parents who attend St. Kate’s.

“Access and Success helps me by providing a space for my son to play while I work on assignments. It is convenient because the playroom is separated from the study lab, but I can still watch him. Also, the program arranges daycare assistance for us, so I can have a few hours a week to concentrate on school work.” — Jerrisha Goines ’18

Photo: Rebecca Zenefski by Rebecca Studios

A Student’s Take

Kara Becker ’15, MAOT’17 is the mother of three daughters. She served on the Access and Success Advisory Board.

Q: What motivated you to seek a college education?

St. Kate’s had been in the back of my mind for some time. After I had my oldest daughter, I was working so much that I spent less time with my child. I felt a call to find more meaningful work. I decided on healthcare, partly because several people in my life had gone through health crises, and I didn’t like hearing about the care they received. I wanted to become a caregiver who instills hope.

Q: What does it mean to attend a university that supports students with children?

It almost makes me tear up when I think about it. St. Kate’s goes to great lengths to take care of not just me, but my family; every detail is considered. I feel so proud to be a Katie. Initially I didn’t think I needed assistance, but I’ve learned that it’s not a flaw to accept the support offered. Access and Success has been a tremendous gift, and I will definitely advocate for it as an alumna.


493 Coeur de Catherine St. Paul

361 Education Building Minneapolis

OFFICE HOURS: Varies, call 651.690.6894

Pauline Oo
MAOL Cert ’14, MBA '16

Class Notes Editor
Sara Berhow

Art Director
Carol Evans-Smith

Molly Orth
Joey Blanchard

Production Assistants
Kara DeMarie MLIS '16
Kayla Forbes MBA '17

Director of Visual Communications
Jayne Stauffer

Director of Marketing and Communications
Kristin Kalstad Cummings '91

Vice President for External Relations
Bea Abdallah

651.690.6831 | 800.945.4599