Say you're a young parent who's been thinking about going back to school, but you're not sure how to do it with a baby in tow.

Or maybe you're already enrolled, but that baby's on the way and you're wondering how you can possibly juggle both. Or perhaps you've managed to both parent and study so far, but your diploma seems to be vanishing into the distance no matter how hard you work.

If you're 24 or younger, and pregnant or parenting, and either already enrolled or looking to start, Linn-Benton Community College wants to talk to you.

The college recently received a $191,980 federal grant through the Oregon Health Authority to help young moms and dads with their education: getting in, staying in and finishing.

Jerri Wolfe, LBCC department chair for parenting education and family connections, said work on the grant is just getting started. 

The plan is to use the money for staff training, materials, outreach and some direct services to parents and families. But first, Wolfe said, the college needs to figure out who meets the criteria and what they need to know how they might be connected to resources and where the gaps are.

The big picture: "Make sure they’re connected and on a pathway that's going to get them through in an efficient way to meet their academic goals."

The Family Connections project is an independent effort, but it also falls under a larger initiative to make LBCC more affordable in terms of costs of living.

Bruce Clemetsen, vice president of student affairs, is chairman of the Affordability Task Force, which President Greg Hamann commissioned earlier this year.

Made up of faculty, staff, administrators and the president of the student body, the task force has met five times so far. The goal of the group is not so much to increase financial aid opportunities — although that might be a part of its work — as it is to overcome barriers to staying in school.

It can take two to four years, sometimes more, to finish a program at Linn-Benton Community College, Clemetsen said, and a lot of life can happen in that time. A big heating bill, a medical emergency, even a car problem can suddenly make school less of a priority.

"We know being a student takes you out of the workforce, and when people are struggling to make ends meet, school is typically the first thing that you give up to get more work or to get to work," he said. "So we're trying to find ways to reduce the impact of life's expenses on your choice to be a student, because there are ways of supplementing or using other resources to make sure you finish school."

The pregnant/parenting grant at Family Connections is one such effort. Another, Clemetsen said, is a new partnership with the Community Services Consortium's energy assistance program.

Starting at the end of January, a CSC energy assistance program representative will be on campus one afternoon a week to meet with students about whether they qualify for help with their power bills. Students can schedule appointments, bring in income statements and see whether they qualify.

Clemetsen said the college will be looking into similar partnerships with organizations that help with housing, food, health care and other services. And, he said, part of the effort is making sure the college helps students develop a plan for how they will cover those life expenses.

"Our ultimate goal is to make sure that we are maximizing access and use of all the resources available so that you're able to cover what it costs you to live and be a student," he said.

Students who finish their college educations have a much better chance at finding and keeping a living-wage job with benefits that keep them from having to turn to the CSC or any other assistance program, Clemetsen said. "That benefits everybody, in the end."

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