Higher Ed Chat: Los Angeles Valley College Family Resource Center

by California Competes

Topics: Affordability, Community Colleges, Degree Attainment, Enrollment, Regions

Tuition is not the sole culprit in California’s college affordability crisis. The cost of housing, food, and supplies add up to make the total cost of college a significant barrier to degree completion. For parents who want to attend college, the stakes are even higher. Student parents, some of whom have recently been allotted targeted state aid through the 2019-20 California Budget, see a hefty increase in cost when factoring in childcare and other related expenses. They also face non-financial challenges that could make a degree seem untenable. At present, Los Angeles Valley College is the only community college among the California Community Colleges’ 114 campuses to offer a comprehensive resource center to student parents.

California Competes Interim Executive Director Ria Sengupta Bhatt recently chatted with representatives from the Los Angeles Valley College Family Resource Center. The FRC does not provide childcare, but through a menu of supportive services, has helped thousands of students achieve their postsecondary goals while ensuring their own families thrive during the process.

Joining the conversation were:

  • Marni Roosevelt, Founder and Director, Los Angeles Valley College Family Resource Center
  • Amber Angel, Program Coordinator, Los Angeles Valley College Family Resource Center
  • Dr. Doug Marriott, Dean of Adult/Community Education & Workforce Development, Los Angeles Valley College

Read what they had to say about this unique, comprehensive program for student parents.

Ria Sengupta Bhatt: Thank you for speaking with us about ways colleges and policymakers can better support student parents. I’m looking forward to learning more about your program. How does the Family Resource Center support community college students at Los Angeles Valley College?

Amber Angel: The Family Resource Center has three branches—student parent support, workforce support, and community service. We have a free clothing exchange for children up to age five. Student parents can come to the center and get free diapers, wipes, and formula. We have a lactation room and a refrigerator to store breast milk. The Family Resource Center has a full computer lab with designated times when interns will supervise students’ children for two hours so they can go and study quietly. We also have a math and English tutor available for students and their children. Some students will bring their older children in to get some one-on-one tutoring. We offer school supplies for students and their children as well as a textbook lending library. Students can pick up organic produce from a local farmer’s market at our food pantry.

We have a free clothing exchange for children up to age five. Student parents can come to the center and get free diapers, wipes, and formula. We have a lactation room and a refrigerator to store breast milk.

Ria Sengupta Bhatt: It’s incredible that the program is so comprehensive.

Amber Angel: Yes, and four times a week, parents can come in with their children for playgroups facilitated by a parent educator and a licensed marriage and family therapist. That’s actually how I discovered the Family Resource Center when I was a student here, but I’ll get into my personal story later. Students can attend these groups for free, and community members can join for a fee. These families from the community can get a sense of feeling supported on a college campus and might enroll in a class or two.

We also offer a two-generation parenting class taught by a licensed marriage and family therapist while the students’ children play in an adjacent classroom with student interns. We’re interested in expanding the model to teen parents through our local school districts. I should also mention we have a social worker on staff who builds connections to community resources to support students beyond the scope of what we offer, such as help with getting a child assessed for special needs, a record expunged, or securing housing.

Ria Sengupta Bhatt: At California Competes, we know how much these multifaceted services are needed because student parents, like many other students in California, have basic needs that must be met for them to be successful in college. Do you have a sense of how many students you’re reaching or what share of students on campus are accessing services?

Amber Angel: We serve about one thousand students each year—that number includes student parents attending community college and those in workforce training programs we host on our campus. FAFSA data tells us about 6,000 students on our campus have children in the home, which is 29 percent of our student population. We assume the real number is higher because we know some eligible student parents don’t apply for financial aid. As we grow the Family Resource Center’s capacity, we’re having conversations about how we can scale across campus to impact more students.

Ria Sengupta Bhatt: What was the impetus for the Family Resource Center?

Marni Roosevelt: I was an adjunct teacher in the child development department and students would come to me after class and ask questions about their own children, like, “My baby doesn't sleep through the night, what should I do?” I wanted to offer them more support beyond answering their questions, so I got some students together who had young children and started a parent and baby group. We saw it was too difficult to chat with the parents while the babies and young children were there, so I recruited some child development students as interns and helped them get credit for taking care of the kids. From there, the program grew organically. I started applying for grants and learning more about the challenges student parents face. A big milestone for us was when I worked with a local developer to secure a $1.5 million donation to build the Family Resource Center.

Ria Sengupta Bhatt: Amber, you mentioned that you accessed the Family Resource Center when you were a student at the college and then later joined the staff. Would you be willing to share a little more about your personal experience?

Amber Angel: Sure. I became a mother at 21 and never envisioned myself going to college. I’m the youngest of eight kids, my dad’s the middle of thirteen, and I’m the first in my entire family to even set foot on a college campus. When I had my daughter, I realized I needed to make a better life for us. When I was driving by the college one day, I saw a swing set that peeked over a wall. It turned out to be the Los Angeles Valley College Campus Child Development Center. I pulled in and two weeks later,we started school together. She was two and a half at the time, and I just took some parenting classes.

I found myself really enjoying school and stayed full time. When I became pregnant with my second daughter, education became really challenging. I almost gave up. My water broke during my 8 a.m. math class, and I had her right before spring break. When I came back to class, she was 13 days old and I was on the edge of dropping out. I happened to have Marni Roosevelt as my professor and she pulled me into her office and invited me to come to the Family Resource Center. She walked me over and I enrolled in the playgroups and started bringing my daughters there. That gave me a feeling of belonging that I didn’t have before. I think that’s a huge piece of the Family Resource Center—it’s a place to get social capital.

I think that’s a huge piece of the Family Resource Center—it’s a place to get social capital.

I started meeting with a mentor who helped me apply to a university, which is not something I had any idea to do. As I came in more and more, Marni Roosevelt hired me as a student worker. The semester that my second daughter was born, I graduated with an associate’s degree in early childhood development. I don’t say this lightly, but the Family Resource Center 100 percent changed my life.

The next semester, my older daughter started kindergarten and I started at California State University, Northridge and continued to work with Marni Roosevelt. I graduated this past May with my bachelor’s of science in family studies.

Ria Sengupta Bhatt: Congratulations! I know how challenging it is to balance work and kids, and putting school on top of that--what an incredible accomplishment. Doug, I’d like to ask you about how the Family Resource Center has extended services to participants in workforce programs. I know that’s a unique aspect of the program.

Dr. Doug Marriott: I was familiar with the two-generational approach prior to coming to the campus and when I saw the work Marni Roosevelt was doing, we started partnering. The workforce development program at Los Angeles Valley College offers three- and six-week academies to help individuals get employed. Often, individuals who access them come with many barriers. When we began embedding Family Resource Center services into our workforce academies, we’d start off with a licensed marriage and family therapist talking about stress and how it impacts relationships and families. It changed the tone and tenor of the program which became a much more holistic approach to workforce development. We then saw greater persistence, less attrition, and greater success. Now when we hold our workforce academies, whether it’s in advanced manufacturing, biomedical manufacturing, advanced transportation, or professional services, we now work systematically with the Family Resource Center to make sure that all of the participants can access those services.

Ria Sengupta Bhatt: What specific impact has the Family Resource Center services had on your students?

Dr. Doug Marriott: Prior to this partnership, staff would come to me with large life challenges that the participants were facing. Whether it was domestic violence, homelessness, food insecurity, or children with special needs, the participants couldn't access resources to address those challenges. The staff here wasn’t really trained or equipped to deal with those issues, so a lot of our time would be spent trying to triage the situation, and at times, not successfully. I know that we lost people because we weren't able to address their needs or create a safe space where they felt like they could share what they needed.

Qualitatively, the program has made quite an impact. Everyone feels that there are more tools and resources to serve individuals. I’d estimate 60 percent of the training focuses on the technical skills that are needed, but 40 percent focuses on life skills and soft skills. Some of that training comes from our partnership with the Family Resource Center. This shift is a microcosm of what needs to happen on a broader level within our whole system.

Ria Sengupta Bhatt: How have you seen this two-generational approach relate to student success at Los Angeles Valley College?

Dr. Doug Marriott: After we created this partnership with the Family Resource Center, we've seen our job placement rate increase. We've seen our attrition decrease. When parents come to campus, access the Family Resource Center, and feel that they're connected and people care about them, the success rates for them as students greatly increase and they surpass the general population at our campus.

Marni Roosevelt: We've always done our work with a two-generational lens. We didn't know that's what it was called, but we always knew that we had to support the whole family for the student to be successful. Then we found out it’s called two-gen, but we’ve always believed that if we can help families stay strong, students are able to reach their academic and career goals.

We've always done our work with a two-generational lens. We didn't know that's what it was called, but we always knew that we had to support the whole family for the student to be successful.

Ria Sengupta Bhatt: What should policymakers know about supporting student parents?

Amber Angel: I think with the new community college funding formula and performance-based funding, there’s an opportunity to talk about how a large population of parents are on college campuses and what success could look like for them.

Ria Sengupta Bhatt: It sounds like it’s really about having a paradigm shift in the role the college plays in students’ lives. How does institutional leadership play a part in that?

Marni Roosevelt: I always say Sara Goldrick-Rab opened up our world by talking about college students having basic needs issues and family is certainly one of those basic needs. If we want our students to transfer, complete, get certificates—all those things that college presidents need to keep their eyes on—then how do we support students to get them through the system?

Academic supports are pretty strong on community college campuses, but it's a big paradigm shift to consider that there are other issues behind why students have a hard time getting through, and we see it all the time at the Family Resource Center.

Learn more about the Los Angeles Valley College Family Resource Center here.

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