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Can Student Moms Afford Childcare? Schools Can Help

Only 48% of community colleges are offering on-campus childcare, 57% of four-year public schools offer on-campus childcare, and a sad 9% of four-year private, not-for-profit schools offer childcare.

I’ve heard stories of parents who had to bring their child to class because no one could watch them that day. Maybe they had an assignment due. Their babysitter became ill and no one could watch them. Someone was going to swing by campus and pick them up
between classes. Or the parent was an instructor who couldn’t afford the childcare that day.

Affordable childcare is not just an issue for parents in general; it’s an issue for higher education in particular. Administrators, faculty and staff should remember that any school policies should account for students who are parents. Although parents can be found in all spaces of higher education, when it comes to students, many of them are located in community colleges. And many of those students who are parents attending community college are women.

Higher education degrees are still an important credential for adults who want to get a job or move up in their careers (or change careers). However, lack of affordable childcare often prevents people from pursuing their goals. Nowhere is this more evident than with women.

Unfortunately, childcare is an issue that often falls on the shoulders of mothers. The American Association for University Women (AAUW) recently released a map on childcare in community colleges based on data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System Fall 2011 Institutional Characteristics Component. In the map they showed how many community colleges per state offer childcare for their students.

AAUW highlights

Three U.S. states offer childcare in 100% of its community colleges: Delaware, Nevada and Rhode Island. However, all three states have three or fewer community colleges. Delaware has three, according to AAUW data. Nevada and Rhode Island each have one.

The next state with the highest percentage is New York; it offers childcare in 32 of its 36 community colleges, or 89%.

According to AAUW, California is the state with the highest number of community colleges in the country, and 84% of its community colleges offer on-campus childcare.

Unfortunately, the two states that follow with the largest number of community colleges, Texas and North Carolina, offer on-campus childcare at only 37% and 32% of their campuses, respectively.

Specifics on childcare and students

Unfortunately, affordable childcare for college students is part of bigger trends across the United States.

Child Care Aware® reported last year in “Parents and the High Cost of Childcare: 2013 Report” that childcare is getting pricier; in 2012, childcare increased at eight times the rate of increases in family income.

When it comes to an infant, the annual cost in 2012 of center-based childcare exceeded the median rental payments amount in 21 states and Washington DC.

For a four-year-old, the annual cost of center-based childcare in 2012 was higher than public college costs in 19 states and Washington DC. How can a student afford going to college if childcare costs as much as or more than going to college?

If you wonder what counts as affordable childcare, according to Child Care Aware®’s report, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that 10% of family income for childcare is the benchmark. But statistics show that families routinely spend more than
that.

When parents cannot afford childcare, they often get help
from family or friends. Child Care Aware® pointed out:
• Some families will rely on a relative to help with childcare.
• Other families rely on friends or neighbors to help with childcare.
• Other families arrange for one parent to stay home.
• Other families will cobble together part-time childcare options, like going to pre-kinder for part of the day and then going to a relative’s house in the afternoon.
• A portion of parents will apply for financial assistance to cover childcare, but this too comes with its problems.

Moms at school

Although four-year public institutions have more access to childcare percentage-wise, community colleges are making a difference in providing childcare for students.

In terms of gender, more women attend community college than four-year private and public universities.

According to the 2013 AAUW report, “Women in Community Colleges ” (written by Dr. Andresse St. Rose and Dr. Catherine Hill), in 2010 more than 4 million women were attending community colleges. Over 1 million of them are mothers. Sixty-one percent of women students
attend school part-time.

It’s not a surprise that many women attend community colleges, since they often provide more flexibility for students. Although only 48% of community colleges offer on-campus childcare, that amounts to 528 institutions, versus the 387 four-year public institutions and the 146 four-year private, not-for-profit institutions.

Cost of higher education is a big problem for students across the board. Childcare complicates that further, especially when one considers how much childcare can cost per child and per state. If colleges and universities are considering how to increase retention and graduation rates, perhaps they should help the students who are parents succeed.

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Silva-Ford, Liana. (2014, June). Can Student Moms Afford Childcare? Schools Can Help. Women in Higher Education, 23(6), 8. 

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