Oak Park-based non-profit New Moms is partnering with City Colleges of Chicago to expand its programming by offering young mothers the chance to continue their education through a new three-year pilot program. Through the “Academic Coaching” program, New Moms seeks to challenge the systemic barriers that prevent many young mothers from attaining degrees from higher education institutions.

The pilot academic coaching program will follow 25 young mothers as they pursue associate degrees. Associate degrees typically take two years to complete – but for single parents, the process can take as long as six years, according to Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal, New Moms senior director of employment and academic coaching.

 Even then, the graduation rate is low. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that only 8 percent of single mothers complete their associate degrees in six years. Already underrepresented in higher education, one in three Black female college students are single mothers, per IWPR.

“Student-parents facing scarcity and poverty achieve their goals more frequently when their environments are less stressful, when they have the support of positive relationships, and when they have developed core life skills,” said Caverl-McNeal.

New Moms is offering significant sources of support to the 25 young moms in the pilot program to relieve the external stressors that often prevent others in the same position from going to college.

We’re really excited about their use of the app and in how technology can play a part in assisting our moms while they’re pursuing their goals

Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal, New Moms senior director of employment and academic coaching

The assistance offered through pilot program, Caverl-McNeal calls a “trifecta of supports.” Money is the major cause of stress for young single parents. For those enrolled in school, that stress is compounded by the substantial cost of education. To ease the burden, New Moms is providing the 25 young mothers a monthly financial stipend of $500 while they are enrolled in classes. They are also eligible to receive federal financial student aid.

Many of the participating young mothers have enrolled in City Colleges of Chicago, which offers childcare and virtual classes. However, New Moms will also help provide childcare support to those in the pilot program.

To ensure the scholastic success of the participants, the academic coaching pilot includes individual and group coaching. There will also be peer support sessions.

“The academic coach is really there to help support our moms with their post-secondary goals and help them overcome any barriers they may experience along the way,” said Caverl-McNeal.

They will also participate in professional development workshops, which will include goal setting, parenting, finances and career preparation. The academic coaching pilot coincides with the New Moms’ launch of a new app that will help these young mothers keep track of their progress and monitor their goals in relation to their families and education.

“We’re really excited about their use of the app and in how technology can play a part in assisting our moms while they’re pursuing their goals,” said Caverl-McNeal.

Those 25 young mothers may remain in the program for three years or until they complete their degree. New Moms plans to also provide additional follow-up support post-graduation.

New Moms, which helps young mothers experiencing poverty and homelessness, offers a variety of programs from job training to housing support, but this is the non-profits first foray into education assistance. Support from the Educational Credit Management Corporation Foundation, as well as state funding, has allowed New Moms to embark on this new endeavor.

To determine the effectiveness of the academic coaching program, New Moms is partnering with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. Chapin Hall researchers will evaluate the program’s fidelity by interviewing the 25 mothers as well as interviewing single mothers who are enrolled in college but are not participating in the pilot program.

A qualitative report will ultimately be put together based the findings of Chapin Hall researchers. Early reports, however, indicate good things to come. Caverl-McNeal said the moms are very excited to take part in the program.

“They feel very valued. They feel seen. They feel heard and supported,” said Caverl-McNeal.

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