By Susan Green, IWPR Affiliated Researcher
Jobs with family-sustaining wages increasingly demand workers with a community college degree or certificate. But obtaining that all-important credential can be particularly difficult for the 2.1 million community college students — most of whom are women — with dependent children. All too often student parents confront a complicated mix of low incomes, high student debt, and costly child-related expenditures. Affordable, high-quality child care can make the difference for these students and their families. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration’s proposed budget jeopardizes student parent support programs with long records of success.
IWPR recently published a discussion paper describing the cluster of challenges facing community college student parents. Among other findings, the paper notes that:
- Nearly 40 percent of all women in community college are mothers.
- Roughly 1.5 million community college student parents are women – 71 percent.
- Women of color attending community college are more likely to be mothers than their White classmates.
- Almost 70 percent of student parents live at or below 200 percent of poverty, whereas just half of nonparents subsist on such low incomes.
Because of their lower incomes and child-related expenditures, student parents often must borrow more in order to pay for college. And two-thirds of all community college students with children juggle work with school and family responsibilities. Nearly 40 percent of these student parents work full-time. Research has shown that adding significant work hours to school obligations threatens educational success.
Not surprisingly, student parents frequently leave community college without a degree or certificate. The very students who most need a good job to support their families and repay their student loans are the least likely to obtain the credential required to get such a position. In short, those who need the most from community college often gain the least.
Access to affordable child care could help reverse this trend, especially for mothers. A recent IWPR fact sheet reports that child care consumes 40 percent of low-income families’ average monthly income. This out-of-pocket expense can further burden community college student mothers who live with dependents, 71 percent of whom spend over 20 hours per week on caregiving.
The federal Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS) can help. Among other services, CCAMPIS grants to two- and four-year colleges and universities can be used to support campus-based child care programs; before- and after-school services; child care subsidies for low-income students; and equipment and supplies at child care centers.
CCAMPIS grantees report that student parents who participate in CCAMPIS programs are more likely to stay in and finish school, and achieve higher GPAs, than other students. For example:
- Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs uses CCAMPIS funding to help student parents develop a degree plan, obtain subsidized child care, access tutoring, and attend workshops on technology, parenting, and financial literacy. Student participants maintained a 3.14 cumulative GPA in 2014-15, the most recent data available.
- Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA applies its CCAMPIS dollars to offer student parents quality child care, parenting classes, and leadership courses. The grant helps students develop schedules that include time to study, access tutors and counselors, and work part-time. More than half of participating students obtained a degree or certificate within three years.
Despite these and similar success stories since CCAMPIS’s enactment in 1998, funding for the program peaked in 2001 at $25 million. Since 2003, Congress has appropriated only about $15 million per year. If enacted, the Trump Administration’s budget to cut $9.2 billion from FY2018 federal education spending will zero out this important program.