As a former U.S. Navy Corpsman assigned to a hospital ER, Cailonni Haywood is adept at juggling challenging, diverse assignments. “I basically did everything that a nurse did except administer narcotics through an IV,” she says of her military posting.
Still, having completed her service, Haywood found the thought of earning a college degree while simultaneously caring for her 1-year-old son Khaza daunting. “Finding childcare for him was my biggest concern,” she says.
Haywood receives funding for her education through the GI Bill. But childcare is expensive — and balancing the demands of motherhood with college (class time, reading, homework, group projects) and a demanding job seemed impossible. “I knew I didn’t want to work and go to school,” says Haywood. “I didn’t even know how I was going to handle college with a baby.”
Fast-forward to the fall 2023 semester, and Haywood is handling all quite nicely. Now in her first year at Southern, she’s a sophomore (with transfer credits from military coursework and community college) and is planning to major in social work. She credits an aptly named university program — COMPASS (Childcare Opportunities Mean Parents Achieve Success at Southern) — with easing her journey to a college degree.
The COMPASS program provides a range of critically needed services with a focus on students with financial need, including single parents. Initiatives include an on-campus drop-in childcare and family resource center, subsidies to help pay for off-campus childcare, and educational workshops for parents. The grant even helped create a family friendly study room that opened in the fall 2023 semester in Buley Library.
The program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) Program. An additional contribution comes through a Southern graduate’s bequest.
There’s a profound need for such support. At the national level, more than one in five college students are raising children while attending school — and 53 percent of those have a child under age 6.*
“Amid the country’s looming childcare crisis, students who are parents need affordable, accessible, stable, and high-quality childcare opportunities to succeed. I am proud to work at an institution that prioritizes all students holistically. Also, COMPASS allows us to connect student-parents with other on-campus programs, including our food pantry, family therapy clinic, lactation support, speech and language therapy, and therapeutic recreation,” says Michele Vancour, executive director of healthcare programs in Southern’s College of Health and Human Services.
Historically, the university’s leadership has strived to meet the needs of students who are parents. For example, in 2018, Southern was designated a “Breastfeeding-Friendly Campus” by the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition — becoming the first college or university to earn the recognition.
The COMPASS program builds on this commitment. For Haywood, the university’s COMPASS Drop-in Childcare and Family Resource Center has been “the biggest blessing.” Located on campus, it provides reservable, short-term care (up to 3.5 hours) for children of students and employees. Those with financial need are eligible for no-fee or low-fee care for children between the ages of six weeks and 12 years.
Haywood recalls being nervous about her son Khaza’s transition to the center. “He had a very strong attachment to me,” she says of initially dropping him off at the center twice a week and gradually increasing to four times weekly. “Watching his ongoing development, seeing him become so comfortable and play with the staff and other students, it is such a breath of fresh air,” she says. “It’s made it a lot easier to go to college — mentally, emotionally, and financially.”
The drop-in center launched as a pilot program in spring 2023 and, currently, can serve up to 20 children an hour. Demand is high: more than 40 children are registered to use the facility, which supports 34 student-parents as well as faculty and staff.
Flexibility is a key benefit. “I met a mom in a doctoral program. Her daughter is old enough for school. But when the [elementary] school has a half day or is closed, she uses the drop-in service,” says Haywood.
The COMPASS Childcare Center’s staff includes both undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in academic programs in the College of Health and Human Services and the College of Education. “We find that the diversity of majors allows us to be a well-rounded center,” says Heather Jimenez, COMPASS project coordinator.
Haywood concurs: “It is such a haven for your child. If I had to describe the center’s culture in one word, it would be ‘love.’”
For those with more significant childcare needs, the U.S. Department of Education CCAMPIS grant and contributions from the Division of Student Affairs also enable Southern to provide childcare subsidies to eligible families of up to $5,000. The subsidies offset expenses at accredited childcare centers and organizations like the YMCA. Subsidies are available to students who qualify for the Federal Pell Grant — earmarked for those with the greatest level of financial need.
In the fall, the CCAMPIS Program grant also supported the creation of the Buley Library family-friendly study room. Located on the first floor, the redesigned room welcomes student-parents who bring their children to library visits. The enclosed, light-filled space houses child-size furniture, books, and toys as well as standard furnishing. “We also will provide totes filled with resources and items to occupy the children that visit the space with their parents,” says Vancour.
In a similar vein, COMPASS is teaming up with departments across campus to provide parent- and child-focused educational programs. Haywood and her son have attended several. “Obviously, time management is tough,” she says. “But then here comes the COMPASS staff saying, ‘Hey, come to this luncheon we’re holding, and we’ll talk about time management and how we can help.’ It’s so important because a lot of people do not have support at home.”
Haywood is grateful to have people she can rely on. Her mother lives in the South; Khaza’s father and Haywood’s siblings and grandmother are nearby and supportive. COMPASS continues to help as well — and amid her first semester, Haywood, a woman who initially questioned attending college at all, is daring to dream big. “I am so thankful. Originally, I thought I was just going to get my bachelor’s degree. . . . But now, I’m going to go as far as I can in my schooling,” she says.