SLU makes list of best colleges that support pregnant, parenting students

Providing financial help is one way to help a mother choose life over abortion.

That was Students for Life's motivation when it started an endowment seven years ago to help pregnant and parenting students on the campus of St. Louis University.

For years, the student organization has focused its energy on making SLU a welcoming place for students facing unplanned pregnancies. Other projects have included setting up lactation rooms for nursing mothers and installing diaper-changing tables in restrooms. The group also has baby showers to collect items for Birthright St. Louis and Our Lady's Inn.

Last month, Students for Life of America announced that SLU made its "Top 11" list of best colleges for pregnant and parenting students.

"It's no secret that college-age women report the highest number of abortions than any other age group," president Kristan Hawkins wrote in a statement. "It's terrifying to face an unplanned pregnancy while trying to get a college degree, which is why it's important to recognize the colleges and universities that put a premium on offering pregnant and parenting resources the students they need so they don't have to choose between their child and their education."

Students for Life evaluated colleges on several criteria, including whether they have a policies in place to welcome and accept pregnant and parenting students, scholarships, housing for students with dependents and additional resources, such as on-site child care.

SLU Students for Life has been advocating for on-site child care, according to Nikki Kuhlman, student coordinator of the Pregnant and Parenting Student Assistance committee.

SLU offers an employee discount with several off-site child-care providers, but demand is high. The William L. Clay Sr. Early Childhood Development/Parenting Education Center at nearby Harris-Stowe State University offers SLU employees a 10 percent discount on child-care services, but spaces fill up quickly, according to center director Jodi Jordan.

"It's still always hard to maintain full enrollment, but we keep somewhere between 85-90 students on site," she said. "We have two infant rooms right now and we're possibly opening a third, but the process takes a while. We fill up pretty quickly in that area."

In 2008, Students for Life established the Virginia D. Murphy Endowment to provide financial assistance to pregnant and parenting students. The endowment recently surpassed $200,000. To date, close to 60 students have received assistance with tuition, housing, textbooks and other needs.

In recent years, Students for Life has received national recognition for its work and inquiries from other universities on implementing programs to further help students.

The organization continues to raise awareness of its efforts, including participating in Students for Life of America's Pregnant on Campus Challenge. The group launched a website (pregnantoncampus.studentsforlife.org) as a collection of resources for pregnant and parenting students at colleges across the country.

Kuhlman of Students for Life at SLU said she's encouraged by the support the organization has received from the university over the years, especially the Jesuit community. The organization's hands-on work has impressed her the most.

"I was surprised to see people doing real work, not just having discussions," she said. "It speaks to the environment here, and we want to take it to the next level."

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