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We Need to Do Better: Why Child Care Is Crucial for Student-Parents

As the number of sun-filled vacation days dwindled, the back-to-school rush began. While many parents were preparing for their children to return to school, some were planning on returning to school themselves. In fact, over a quarter of undergraduate students (4.8 million) are currently raising dependent children. Many of these students are single parents, a majority of whom are women. As parents of students shopped frantically to buy backpacks, pencil cases, and notebooks for their children, student parents also had to find college textbooks, laptops, and calculators as well as affordable, reliable child care. As university students ourselves, we both have had conversations with our peers about the difficulty of balancing family and education, particularly when many campuses do not have good child care options. Without affordable child care, student parents often are forced to take on student debt or choose not to pursue higher education.

Fortunately, there are now increased resources with which to help these student parents access child care, thanks to a $2.37 billion increase in federal funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) as of FY 2018. Under CCDBG, states receive federal funds to help low-income parents pay for child care while they work, look for work, or attend school. While all states allow some parents in school to receive child care assistance, many states have placed limitations on student parents’ access to assistance. Many states limit the type of degree parents can attain while receiving CCDBG assistance, and other states restrict the amount of time parents can receive CCDBG assistance while attending school.

With the opportunity presented by the new CCDBG funding, states can reduce such restrictions and expand access to assistance for student parents. As recommended in the National Women’s Law Center’s report, “Building Pathways, Creating Roadblocks: State Child Care Assistance Policies for Parents in School,” states can make it easier for student parents to obtain child care assistance by allowing them to qualify for help without having to work while also going to school, without having to take a particular number of courses, and without being subject to limitations on how long they can attend school or the degree they can attain.

In addition to increasing CCDBG funding, Congress also more than tripled federal funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools (CCAMPIS) program, increasing it from $15 million to $50 million. This increase will allow CCAMPIS to expand the number of student parents it serves from 5,000 to an estimate of over 12,000. Yet, the increases for CCAMPIS and CCDBG will be sufficient to address just a small fraction of the need for child care assistance among student parents.

In addition to supporting student parents using CCDBG and CCAMPIS, colleges can adopt other strategies to help student parents with their child care and broader needs. These strategies, detailed in a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy and Research titled “Prepping Colleges for Parents,” include:

  • Transition Support—Portland Community College offers a free course that prepares single mothers for college life.
  • Secure and Affordable Housing Options—Wilson College offers on-campus housing to single mothers with young children.
  • Hybrid/Online Courses—University of California at Berkeley provides pregnant students and new parents with course scheduling flexibility.
  • Assistance Finding Child Care—Arizona State University has an on-campus resource and referral program.

Supporting parents who are striving for advanced degrees is a smart investment. It helps mothers attain the educational credentials they need for better jobs, which means higher incomes, more financial stability for their families, and more resources for nurturing their children’s development. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, single mothers who are able to finish school and graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and who work full-time, full-year, could make up to $610,324 more in their lives than those with a high school diploma. Senators and Representatives should recognize these benefits and further expand funding for CCDBG and CCAMPIS, and colleges should expand their supports for student parents, so that parents have access to the child care they need to attend and finish school—and build better futures for themselves and their children.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.