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Research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that in 2016 30,169 children in Texas were born to teen parents (212,062 in the U.S.) who will need additional financial, social and emotional support.

During my freshman year of college in 1997, I was one of these young women when I got pregnant with my oldest son. While it was challenging and stressful raising my son while barely of high school, I was determined to stay in college and complete my degree because I knew how important a college degree was for both of us. While in college, I relied on a network of support, including my parents, Pell grants, VA benefits, food stamps, government-subsidized housing and WIC, to make ends meet.

This is also the case for the 30,000 young men and women this year who face similar circumstances as I did. Community colleges, such as North Central Texas College, serve a vital role in providing that pathway for young parents to economic security and stability — pathways that pay back dividends for young parents and their children.

At NCTC, for example, we are committed to providing an affordable education to young parents who need to enter the workforce as quickly as possible by providing fast-track certificate programs in high-demand fields, including surgical technology, cybersecurity and welding. Community colleges also prepare teen parents to transfer to four-year universities by offering flexible class schedules (such as evening, weekend, online and hybrid courses) in fully transferable core curriculum courses.

It is easy to stigmatize teen parents and view them as social and economic burdens. It is easy to say, “You made your bed. Now lie in it.” However, such attitudes only perpetuate a cycle of poverty that impacts us all. While teen parents may require additional resources and support initially, research shows that if we provide them with educational resources, they pay back that investment by earning more and paying more in taxes each year.

For example, in 2015, college graduates with associate degrees earned almost $10,000 (25%) more than high school graduates. Graduates with bachelor’s degrees earned $24,000 (67%) more than high school graduates.

College graduates with associate degrees also paid $2,500 (32%) more in taxes than high school graduates, and college graduates with bachelor’s degrees paid $6,900 (91%) more in taxes.

While teen parents may need to rely on public assistance initially, if they earn a college degree, they are less likely to need public assistance after graduation. For college graduates with associate degrees, only 2% relied on housing assistance and only 8% relied on food stamps.

College degrees also translate to better social outcomes and civic engagement: College graduates with associate and bachelor’s degrees are more likely to vote, save for retirement, have health insurance, exercise and volunteer.

I have seen firsthand the transformative power of education. Despite the overwhelming challenges, I completed my bachelor’s degree and graduated magna cum laude in 2001, a master’s degree in 2003 and my doctorate from Texas Woman’s University in 2009.

Today, I am an English instructor and division chairwoman at NCTC. My oldest son is 21, has completed an associate degree from NCTC and has been accepted into the honors program at TWU this fall as a mathematics major.

I also have seen how, for students at NCTC, college education lifts them (and their children) up from poverty and gives them opportunities to lead fulfilling and economically independent lives.

ROCHELLE GREGORY is chairwoman of the English, Speech and Foreign Language department at North Central Texas College.

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