When one Concordia University graduate walked across the stage during commencement last week, no one was cheering louder than her 4-year-old daughter, Elise.
Instead of returning to high school after holiday break in 2014, Caitlyn gave birth to a baby girl. She had graduated early from a local high school that December, not knowing what the future would hold for her as a young, single mother.
That’s when the faith and generosity of a family friend from ACTS Church Lakeway stepped in. “I knew that she had planned to go on to college, and that the future she wanted so much would be in jeopardy if she didn’t have enough support,” said church member Sue Norcia. “So… I asked her mom what we could do to support Caitlyn’s college goal.”
Norcia ended up making a four-year pledge to watch Caitlyn’s daughter anytime she attended class.
Caitlyn and her family found two more supports that made it possible for her to begin college the next fall, just as she had hoped before she became pregnant: Concordia’s Adult Degree Program and the Texas Equalization Grant.
Concordia University’s Adult Degree Program allowed Caitlyn to care for Elise during the day and attend classes at night. ADP students also receive support from a student success team to help anticipate their individual needs and keep them on track toward graduation in four years.
The ADP program tailors courses for adults with busy lives and continues year-round, providing shorter courses that meet just one night a week at an accelerated pace, something Caitlyn said she appreciated.
“I loved that many of the adult program professors taught multiple classes and that the classes never had more than 10 students,” said Covington. “We were consistently in the same classes. I may have been the youngest, but I formed some really lasting and impactful relationships.”
Norcia and her husband took on the 5:30-7:30 p.m. care shift each class night until Elise’s grandmother could pick her up and take her home for bedtime routines. Over time, the effort was dubbed “Elise’s Love Club,” as three other families heard about Sue’s pledge and offered to assist.
“They became like extra aunts and uncles for my daughter, so we called them that,” said Caitlyn. “They even shuttled baby toys and equipment between their houses when she was really small, and messaged each other about which snacks she liked and what activities she enjoyed.”
Caitlyn also benefited from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Tuition Equalization Grant program from the beginning. The TEG program provides grants to first-time students with financial need to enable them to attend private, non-profit schools in Texas as long as they maintain a high GPA and at least three-quarter time status.
Caitlyn also started contributing to her own educational costs in 2015 by taking on clients at her mother’s bookkeeping and office management company. Now graduating with a degree in business administration, she said she may pursue a position in construction or property management based on the client experience she has gained in those fields.
Caitlyn worked part time during the week, reserving Fridays as a day with her daughter. By the time her degree program required some daytime classes two years ago, she enrolled Elise in a few days of preschool.
“She’s worked very hard, making it her goal to finish college before Elise starts kindergarten, and she’s done it with a year to spare,” adds Norcia, who attended the April 28 commencement ceremony along with fellow sitter Jody Maas.
Concordia’s own provost knows something about how it feels to accomplish a goal like Caitlyn’s, and said she is proud to lead the academic mission of the university toward more success stories for students like her.
Once a teenage mother herself, Dr. Kristi Kirk faced that hurdle at age 18, a single mother with a toddler in tow when she started at Concordia. She has since earned two higher degrees while working full time and parenting.
“Concordia embraced me and my son, and helped me balance parenting, school and work,” said Kirk, who today volunteers with the Jeremiah Program, an Austin nonprofit focused on establishing a supportive community for single mothers to earn their college degrees.