KeepHealthCare.ORG – The fate of thousands of college students— and their kids—hangs in the balance
There’s one key amenity keeping Vita Preciado in college. No, it’s not a gourmet cafeteria, brand new gym or even financial aid or scholarship dollars. It’s her school’s campus child-care center.
“If I didn’t have access to the child care I probably wouldn’t be in school,” the 36-year-old said.
And if you take one look at Preciado’s schedule, it’s easy to understand why having access to an affordable, safe and reliable place to leave her children is so important. During the week, she works as a pharmacy technician from 9:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., gets home, takes her children to school, heads to her own classes, picks up her children, heads home and tries to find time for homework and family time before starting it all over again.
Preciado’s husband is also a college student and he works part-time, so assistance taking care of their children is vital as the couple works towards degrees that will help them better provide for their family. “Without them, I wouldn’t know what to would do with my kids,” Preciado said of the campus child-care center.
The future of that program hangs in the balance. Across the country, campus child-care programs, like the one Preciado relies on, are eagerly waiting to see whether they’ll be able to afford to maintain their services or even expand them. Earlier this year, Congress authorized an increase in funding to the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, which supports efforts by colleges to help low-income student parents afford child care. But it still remains unclear which of the many campus child-care programs across the country will get the new funds and how that will be decided.
More college students than ever need child care
A group of Democratic Senators recently wrote to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urging her to implement the funding increase.
The new funding comes after years of increases in the number of student-parents on campus, even as the number of child-care centers available to serve them dropped. Advocates, student parents and college officials are celebrating the new funding, noting that it could be key to ensuring that more student-parents have access to affordable child care. And as they wait to see how exactly the Department of Education plans to disperse the funds, campus child-care programs that narrowly missed out on new funding in recent years are hopeful that with more money available, they’ll get much-needed funding to maintain and even grow their operations.
“CCAMPIS is the only federal program that supports child-care access for low-income college students who have children,” said Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, a senior research associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research who studies student-parents. “While small, for those students who do benefit from this program, they see an immense change in their ability to persist and complete.”
Some campus child-care centers stay open til 10 p.m.
At the University of New Mexico, where Preciado goes to college, the school’s campus child-care center has historically used the CCAMPIS grant to fund access to affordable and consistent drop-in service for students with irregular schedules, said Victoria Dimas, a program specialist at UNM’s Children’s Campus. The organization also uses the funding to provide discounts to student-parents enrolling their kids in traditional 9 to 5 programs.
Right now, the program serves about 300 students — though there’s a waiting list of about 1,200 — and has some features that differentiate it from a typical child-care center. It stays open until 10 p.m. so that students with evening classes have a place to drop off their children. It offers programming for student-parents, including weekly study nights that allow parents to get homework done while someone else watches their children.
Despite these offerings, UNM missed out on having its CCAMPIS grant renewed. “We applied last year and unfortunately because of the competitive nature of this program we were not awarded,” Dimas said. She’s hopeful that UNM will be able to win some of the increased funds once they become available. They’d even like to expand.
Child care on campus has far-reaching effects
Increasing access to campus child care as UNM hopes to do helps student-parents of course, but there’s evidence that it’s important for other reasons too. About 28% of single moms who entered college between 2003 and 2009 received a degree or certificate within six years, according to research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. That’s compared to 40% of married mothers and 57% of women in college without children.
Without degrees, these parents won’t be able to reap the investment they made in their education — whether in the form of time, debt, their own funds or a combination of all of the above. But if parents are able to pursue and persist in higher education, it will likely increase their own fortunes and benefit society more broadly.
“Student parents who graduate with a college degree, particularly those who are coming from a low-income background are going to see substantial earnings gains,” Reichlin Cruse said.
‘We really are a support system, not just for child care but for them as a student’
At Kingsborough Community College’s campus child-care center in New York City, the staff views part of their role as providing support and services to help parents complete school. “The ultimate goal is that they get through their degree, they pursue a profession and they get a better job to support their family,” said Heather Brown, the director of the center.
The program, initially began as a co-op of parents who took over the college president’s office to agitate for campus child care. Now, it offers almost round-the-clock services — it’s open from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, Friday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. — for student-parents. Without those kinds of services, student-parents at the school would struggle to make it through college, Brown said. Many of the parents they work with are studying nursing and so in addition to classes, they need to travel to clinicals at all hours, she said.
In the past, the center has used CCAMPIS funding to support these efforts and charge their student-parents just $1 a week for their services. Since losing out on the funding a few years ago they’ve raised the prices to a still modest, $200 a semester. But even that sum can be a challenge for low-income student parents to afford and often they pay it in installments, Brown said.
If they win the funding, they hope to use it to support their current programs and also expand their offerings to include more wrap-around services for parents, like a student advising center, Brown said. “We really are a support system, not just for them for child care but for them as a student,” she said.
Daytona State University will still be receiving CCAMPIS funding for its campus child-care programs for the next few months, but officials there are already anxious about what could happen if they’re unable to get their grant renewed. The school uses the money to subsidize the cost of child care for student-parents at child-care centers in the local area.
By nature, the students using the program are struggling to make ends meet. In order to qualify for the funds at Daytona State, a student-parent must be eligible for a Pell grant, the money the government provides to low-income students. They also need to maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average.
The thought of losing the CCAMPIS funding is “definitely stressful,” said Rebecka Collins, program manager for the school’s campus child-care program. Officials at the center are in the process of speaking to students to prepare them in case the funding gets cut.
“A lot of them are scared,” she said. “They’re trying to figure what their next steps would be so we’re trying to assist them with that.”
Right now, those students across the country with access to CCAMPIS funds are the lucky ones and though the funding increase will help programs like the one at Daytona State serve more students, it likely won’t be enough to reach all of the student-parents in need, who are increasingly heading to college to improve their own lives and those of their kids, Reichlin Cruse said.
“The growing number of well-paid quality jobs that require a college credential means that if you want to be able to support yourself and your family, you need a credential,” she said.