More than 24% of American undergraduates have dependent children, but affordable, on-campus child care is still hard to find
According to a 2014 study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 4.8 million college students were parents of dependent children in 2011 —that’s about 26 percent of all college undergraduates. The vast majority of these students, 71 percent, are women. But while the number of enrolled students who have children has grown (increasing by 50 percent between 1995 and 2011, according to IWPR), the availability of childcare on campuses hasn’t. In fact, the number of overall childcare facilities available at public colleges (where more than 60 percent of students with children enroll) has decreased over the past decade or so. In 2002, 54 percent of public, four-year colleges had on-campus childcare; by 2013 that number had dropped to 51 percent. For public, two-year colleges, those figures declined from 52 percent to 46 percent during the same period.
Disappearing funding for on campus child care for college students
The reasons behind the declining availability in childcare are varied, potentially a mix of both budget constraints and academic culture and often these types of facilities aren’t yet considered a financial priority.
Subsidies are available, like the federal funds that support childcare at colleges, but some of those services have been reduced. In 2013 around $14.9 million was allocated to the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program, which provides funding for on-campus childcare services. That’s a far cry from the funding that was allocated in 2001, when $25 million was made available for such programs. And in many states, programs that offer funding for student-parents are facing frozen funds, which makes subsidies more difficult to qualify for.
The unwanted result? Students turn to loans to help them cover the cost of childcare. College students who have kids tend to have higher student-loan debt than their childless peers, according to IWPR. That’s particularly problematic given the fact that these parents are also more likely to have low-incomes than their fellow students.
So why is on-campus childcare so important?
Well, it could help more parents graduate, allowing them to secure better jobs and provide a more stable home for themselves and their children.
According to IWPR, parents with dependent children drop out of college at a higher rate than any other demographic, with only 33 percent of students with children obtaining a degree or certificate within six years. Placing these facilities on-campus not only simplifies daily routines for parents, allowing them to spend less time (and money) commuting from home, to daycare to school, and back again, but also gives them peace-of-mind while at school, since they could easily reach their children in case of emergency.
Community colleges taking a stand for parenting students
Community colleges have led the way in providing students with access to affordable, high-quality child care services on campus. Tidewater Community College in Hampton Roads, Va. offers licensed child care in partnership with the YWCA South Hampton Roads on all four of its campuses in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach. Located conveniently inside the campus student centers, these child development centers provide full-time and part-time care for kids ages 2.5 to 12. Fees are calculated on a sliding scale and students are able to apply financial aid dollars towards the services.
“Having child care on campus has made my life so much easier,” said Jessica Hill, an administration of justice student at TCC whose son, Malachi, 3, began attending the center in Norfolk this spring. “I can bring him here and get to class and even get some homework done, all while knowing he’s in a good place.”
Nursing student Alissa McMakin is thrilled with how happy her 4-year-old son, Jameson, is every day at the center on the Portsmouth Campus.
“He wasn’t that interested in learning before; now he loves learning,” she said. “He points out letters everywhere. They’re starting to teach him to read. It’s not just a day care. They’re developing him.”
Teachers speak to the children in full sentences and always encourage them to use their words. Sabrina Gill, whose son, Zechariah, is enrolled in the Virginia Beach center, is amazed at the progress he has made with his speech.
“I love the staff,” she said. “I don’t look at them as child care providers; they’re like another momma to him.”
Students in TCC’s early childhood education program also benefit from the new partnership, using the child care centers as learning labs.
But the availability of on-campus childcare, and the funds to help students pay for these services vary widely by state. In Delaware, Rhode Island, and Nevada, all community colleges offer an on-campus childcare facility, according to the American Association of University Women. In New York, 32 out of the state’s 36 community colleges provide the service; and in California, 84 percent of the state’s 118 community colleges offer childcare. On the other hand, less than 20 percent of community colleges in Louisiana and South Carolina offer such services, and only 10 percent of Tennessee’s 39 community colleges have on-campus childcare.