Social Capital Leads to Postsecondary Innovation

April 9, 2019 | Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents

A “Basic Principles of Business Administration” textbook open on the table, a curious toddler – with a newfound interest in insects – in her lap, and a community of Parent Advisors supporting her education goals. This was the pathway to postsecondary inclusion and success envisioned by Ascend with the launch of the Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents (PSP) Initiative on November 1, 2018: students who are parents supported by community and family along their postsecondary journey – from registration to completion.  

With more than 22 percent of students across postsecondary institutions raising a child, changes at the program and systems-level are critical to support this growing demographic poised to meet the demands of a labor market steadily requiring more education beyond high school. Ascend positions itself in this evolution as an advocate for parents and as an arbiter of the two-generation (2Gen) approach, which emphasizes the provision of opportunities for and that meet the needs of children and their parents together.  

Key to the success of the Aspen PSP Initiative is the group of 16 Parent Advisors – parents who work with Ascend to guide and accelerate our work by sharing their expertise, thought leadership, and commitment to making sure students who are parents have the supports they need to succeed in the program of their choosing. With a deep understanding of the importance of social capital for families, Ascend designs convenings that facilitate connections and learning at all levels. One Parent Advisor, Lesley Del Rio, who recently restarted her journey towards postsecondary completion, was able to build social capital through participating fully in the PSP convenings and developing new networks of support. This is her story.  

Lesley Del Rio was introduced to Ascend by Florence Crittenton Services of Colorado, a Denver-based nonprofit that supports teen mothers as they graduate from high school. Through speaking engagements on behalf of Florence Crittenton, Lesley was invited to join the Aspen PSP Parent Advisors. When asked why she joined, Lesley shared, “I wanted to go back to school and thought this would be a way to learn about how to do so and it just felt like a good place to share my story.” 

During the second PSP convening, Lesley had the opportunity to meet Sarah Saxton-Frump with PelotonU and learn about their unique online programs. Lesley leveraged her role as a Parent Advisor and worked with Sarah to create an individualized education pathway – through PelotonU – at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), led by Ascend Fellow Paul LeBlanc. “After the design lab, I realized that I never thought about my barriers to finishing postsecondary education. It came up that I really valued time with my son, and I wasn’t willing to compromise that,” says Lesley. Through this unique partnership between PelotonU and SNHU, this time barrier to completion was removed and Lesley was able to pick up where she left off in 2013 in her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in business administration.  

The flagship PelotonU program is a personalized, college completion program that primarily serves adult learners through the competency-based degrees at three institutions: Western Governor’s University, Brandman University and SNHU. In competency-based programs, the focus is on the learner’s needs; students can move at a pace that meets their needs. They pay a flat-rate per term and are able to complete as many classes in that time as they are able. On average, students earn an associate degree in nine months and a bachelor’s degree in 36 months – faster than traditional programs. Students are paired with advisors and coaches that provide support navigating the system and academic tutoring along the way. Lesley’s coach at PelotonU, Holly Boerner, believes in a growth mindset which is embedded at the beginning of every student’s enrollment in the PelotonU program, which is based in Austin, TX. Coaches at PelotonU, like Holly, also build on the students’ strengths and foster numerous soft skills as soon as they join the program. 

Even though Lesley is not physically located in Austin, she says “the PelotonU community is really close.” She participates in online forums and communicates with other students via multiple social media platforms. There are also projects that require peer feedback and there is significant staff-to-student interaction through surveys.  

The PelotonU experience has been life-altering for Lesley, and her 8-year old son, Leo. Lesley is now two years from completing her degree: a milestone she did not think was possible before becoming an Aspen PSP Parent Advisor. According to Lesley, a motivating piece of the experience was connecting with the other Parent Advisors, and another important source of motivation has been Leo. For Lesley, motivation is seeing the impact her postsecondary completion journey has had on her son. He has taken on the role of accountability partner. He asks about her meetings with Holly, rubs his mom’s back while she’s doing homework at the table and accompanies her on trips to the library to meet with her tutor and coach. “There are a lot of things that I didn’t realize he was cognizant of……he talks about going to college too.” This, of course, makes Lesley happy because this is the beginning of a tradition of going to college for the Del Rio family. “How I’m setting the ground for him is that [going to college] is something that we do – and you might do it differently – but it’s something we do in this family.” 

Portia Polk is the program associate for Ascend at the Aspen Institute, providing support for Ascend’s postsecondary achievement and innovation work.

Lesley Del Rio is a program manager at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver and Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative Parent Advisor.

Related Posts

Today, Ascend at the Aspen Institute (Ascend) announced that 11 new Parent Advisors have joined its Postsecondary Success for Parents initiative (PSP) to help shape Ascend’s expanded agenda to improve higher education policy and practice for student parents.
Press ReleasesSeptember 29, 2022
More than half of the nearly 4 million student parents in the U.S. are students of color, with Black, Native, and Latino students among the most likely to be raising children while in college. In fact, one-third of all Black college students in the U.S. are parents. When higher education is not designed with parents …

A Leadership Imperative: Postsecondary Success for Parents Launches Its Next Phase Read More »

Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsSeptember 29, 2022
In an op-ed for Philanthropy News Digest, Ascend founder and executive director Anne Mosle highlights the power and potential in listening to and honoring the expertise of parents and caregivers.
Media MentionsAugust 22, 2022
In an article for Lumina Foundation's summer 2022 Focus magazine, Ascend's David Croom offers insight into the power of student parents' commitment to success for themselves and their families.
Media MentionsAugust 3, 2022
In an op-ed for amNY.com, Félix V. Matos Rodríguez shares insights and reflections on how higher ed can make a difference for families by supporting student parents.
Media MentionsJuly 29, 2022
RFP for HBCUs and TCUs to apply for funding and technical assistance to support student parent success on their campuses One in five college students – close to 4 million – is pursuing higher education while parenting. More than half are students of color, with Black and Native students more likely to be balancing school …

Ascend’s New Family Futures Fund Focuses on Black and Native Student Parent Success Read More »

Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsJuly 20, 2022
In an Inside Higher Ed article, Ascend's Anne Mosle shares insights into the value of education for family economic mobility, financial security and ultimately well-being.
Media MentionsMay 4, 2022
In episode 101 of the Office Hours with EAB podcast, David Croom shares compelling success stories and recommendations on creative ways for institutions to partner with local businesses and community leaders to offer more support and wraparound services to help student-parents succeed.
Media MentionsApril 26, 2022
So our Ascend team was thrilled to host a virtual book talk with Nicole Lynn Lewis, author of Pregnant Girl: A Story of Teen Motherhood, College, and Creating a Better Future for Young Families.
Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsMarch 10, 2022
David Croom and our Postsecondary Success for Parents partners were featured in NPR discussing the opportunities for colleges and universities to make higher ed more accessible for parenting students. “Parents experience this concept called time poverty,” says David Croom, the assistant director for postsecondary achievement and innovation at Ascend at the Aspen Institute. “They have about …

4 Tips for Parents and Caregivers Who Want to Go to College Read More »

Media MentionsFebruary 21, 2022
Student parents are a key population - one that represents over 20 percent of the postsecondary student population and the state of California. How can the state’s systems prepare for this key population?
Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsJanuary 11, 2022
It took me many years as a professional in the world of higher education before I had a personal epiphany: for me and my family, our academic success as student parents was not only a two-generation (2Gen) strategy that uplifted me and my children, it was a four-generation strategy that set up our family’s success for generations to come.
Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsOctober 26, 2021
Ascend at the Aspen Institute and The Jed Foundation Release a New Mental Health Framework with Recommendations for Supporting the Mental Health of Students Who Are Parents Washington, DC – A new study released today by Ascend at the Aspen Institute (Ascend) and The Jed Foundation (JED) finds that more than two in five (43 percent) …

New Study: Student Parents in College Experience Unique Mental Health Challenges but Lack Access to Support on Campus Read More »

PressMay 26, 2021
Shaquana Graham is a single mother of three beautiful children. She lives in The Bronx, NY, and is currently a full-time student at Bronx Community College.
Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsMay 24, 2021
After Yoslin had her first son, she knew she had to go to college and earn her degree to break her family’s cycle of poverty. During that time, she applied to become a Generation Hope scholar and has been part of their program for four years.
Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsMay 17, 2021