YI championed an initiative to appoint student-parent liaisons at every public college campus in Texas, critical support to ensure student parents are made aware of and have access to services toward degree completion and that institutions collect data on this important population. Young advocates testified on the importance of student liaisons, collected and shared stories from student parents, and spoke directly with legislative offices, starting a critical dialogue in Texas. One of our advocates, Elizabeth Kufour, discusses her experience of advocating for this critical policy as the daughter of a student parent. Check out more reflections from our young advocates on their work in the Texas legislative process.
Our bill died. HB 3003, a bill that would designate a student parent liaison on college campuses to help students who are parents access various resources, was sent to the House Calendars Committee where it died despite previously being voted favorably in the House Higher Education Committee.
Like an eager teen participating in a team tryout, I checked the Texas House Calendars Committee lists for bills to be considered. Like that same eager teen, the disappointment settled in when I didn’t see HB 3003 on any of the lists. I didn’t understand, and I still don’t. I visited. I called. I emailed. And I called. Again. And again. And again. I spent hours at the Texas Capitol meeting with legislators. I spent hours on the phone talking to legislative aides. I spent hours behind my laptop emailing the legislative staff members over calendars and higher education policies. As did several other advocates. We invested so much time into a piece of legislation that never saw the light of day and became law. To say the least, I was disappointed but ultimately not surprised.
Disappointment. That’s a word that has become all too common in my vocabulary regarding the 86th Texas legislative session. I was walking around the Texas State Capitol with Fedora Galasso, the Southern Regional Director for Young Invincibles, doing legislator visits when I shared my appreciation for the opportunity to be a young advocate for Young Invincibles. I told her I had lost so much hope in the legislative process that I was convinced the only way for my voice to be heard was through other unconventional ways. But all the time we had invested and all the work we completed had restored my hope in both the Texas legislative process and the national legislative process. I still have that hope. While this legislative session didn’t produce the results I hoped for, I am hopeful for the next session. I know that the 87th legislative session will have even more visits, more calls, and more emails not only from me but from the many young advocates who care about young adult issues.
Aside from disappointment, I also feel guilty. My mother, a single mother, was a student parent. Unfortunately, she isn’t alone as 62% of student-parent mothers are also single mothers. Fortunately, my mother was able to finish her degree, but it came at a large expense. Having to juggle two kids and a career, my mother had to sacrifice quality time with her children to fulfill her responsibilities as a student. I saw my mother, less and less. I began calling my uncle who babysat my brother and me “mommy.” It took my mother four years to earn her associate degree. In addition to juggling school and raising two kids, she was also striving to create a better life for herself, my brother, and me. My mother is unique. College is an emotional, financial, and mental challenge for many and the added responsibility of caring for a child only increases the difficulty of college completion.
HB 3003 would have helped students, like my mother, by equipping student parents with information on available resources and providing an on-campus student-parent liaison. Sixteen years later, my mother is now looking into options to continue her education and hopefully earn her bachelor’s degree. She took a sixteen-year gap year because she didn’t think she could fulfill her duties as a student and a parent if she pursued her bachelor’s degree. I feel guilty because I wanted to commemorate my mother’s sacrifices by helping these bills pass.
Aside from my mother’s experience, I met an advocate through the Young Advocates program who was also a young student parent, Rene Webster. Throughout the internship, we had many conversations about being a student parent. We compared her experience with my mother’s experience. Unfortunately, she couldn’t continue her college career, but she’s spent the past couple of years researching her options and the available resources. Luckily, she identified an academic program she’s interested in, a school with a daycare service, and a potential start date. However, it took her two years to identify these options that an on-campus liaison could have identified in a couple of days. So, in addition to my mom, I feel guilty that I let Rene and others like her down. By being a part of the passing of a monumental piece of legislation, I wanted to recognize the struggles of student parents while helping current and future student parents to accomplish their goal of finishing college.
With student parents making up such a large percentage of Texas’ college population, we need to acknowledge that this population exists, is a large part of the student body, and has unique needs that need to be addressed. First, Texas can work to create a website and a complimentary app that streamlines all the available resources for student parents. After attending the University of Texas at Austin for a year, it wasn’t until I had a conversation with Rene that I found out there was a daycare on campus. Second, Texas schools can start working to advertise their current services like on-campus childcare and get students involved to volunteer at these daycare locations. Third, colleges and universities should start collecting data on student parents, so their needs can be addressed and included in reports.
As such a large and influential state, the Texas government needs to take action to set a new precedent for the rest of America, address the needs of one of its most crucial populations, and also maximize the efficacy of their current services. In the end, legislation that addresses student parents in college would become a catalyst for change and start a national conversation on how colleges and universities can better serve all their students, especially student parents. I remain hopeful that we can continue driving these conversations forward to effect this change.
Elizabeth Kufour attends the University of Texas at Austin, where she’s double majoring in Business Management and African and African Diaspora Studies and double minoring in Communication Studies and Philosophy of Law.