Let’s Make Child Care More Accessible

We must provide more financial support for parents struggling to afford child care, and that must include student parents working toward a credential or degree, argues Sarah Labadie.

July 18, 2017
 
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In his proposed budget, President Trump outlined his plan to eliminate the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program, called CCAMPIS, even though data about what America’s student population looks like today and in the foreseeable future support its continued existence. Fittingly named, the program provides on-campus child care for low-income parents enrolled in institutions of higher education and is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Why is that important? Since 2004, the number of college students raising children has gone up by 30 percent, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Almost five million student parents are now enrolled in colleges across America, and their number is projected to grow at a faster rate than traditional students -- especially at community and for-profit colleges. At the same time, the availability of child-care services on campuses has been declining in regions across the country that have the highest influx of students with children. The elimination of the program would deal another blow to student parents and make our higher education institutions less effective in meeting the needs of their changing populations.

According to the findings from IWPR, women are more likely to be grappling with the dual struggle of child care and college, and black women are doing so more than those in any other demographic. For low-income women in college, this precarious balance puts them at risk for dropping out altogether, although many are pursuing higher education as a way out of low-paid jobs and economic insecurity. It’s a good strategy. Higher education is positively correlated with income, and adults with more than a high school education are less likely to be unemployed or on public assistance. But a dearth of affordable and accessible child-care options leaves higher education and its accompanying benefits out of reach for many low-income women.

For example, 23-year-old Karina Escobar, a student parent who shared her story with my organization, Women Employed, says that after juggling her shifts at work, college and care for her four-month-old daughter, “I feel like I don’t rest enough. I always say the day I’m resting is the day I’m financially stable.”

With the absence of sufficient child-care centers and high costs at the centers that do exist, single mothers like Escobar have to rely on help from family and friends for child care when they are in class and working -- help that’s not guaranteed and often falls through. The result? Low-paid working women with children withdraw from college. The economy suffers, too, when higher education institutions fail to serve workers who are seeking the skills they need to acquire better-paying jobs and become financially secure.

The data show we are clearly moving in the wrong direction when it comes to making a college education more accessible for working parents trying to improve life for themselves and their families. Recognizing that parents represent a high share of college students, we need to think specifically about their needs and not just those of students coming straight from high school without children. As a country, we must provide more financial support for parents struggling to afford child care -- and that must include student parents working toward a credential or degree.

It is also imperative that community colleges focus on making child care more accessible (for example, offering child care and classes at more times, rather than on a nine-to-five schedule), so gutting CCAMPIS is not the answer. Of course, the high cost of tuition is another barrier for students, as it has more than doubled in the last two decades. Federal and state-level policies should also focus on expanding and increasing financial aid, and consider the cost of child care when determining eligibility.

Education is no longer a luxury -- it is a necessity. And we, as a nation, should be doing more, not less, to ensure that student parents can afford and succeed in higher education.

Bio

Sarah Labadie is a senior policy associate at Women Employed, where she leads the organization’s efforts to develop and promote policies that help adult and low-income students access and succeed in college.

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