As nearly 5 million undergraduate students raising children return to college this fall, a new
Institute for Women’s Policy Research
(IWPR) finds that campus child care is declining in most states across the country, and that many states have rules making it difficult for students to get child care subsidies.
Despite growing numbers of student parents nationwide, the share of public colleges with campus child care declined in 36 states from 2005-2015, stayed the same in 13 states and the District of Columbia, and increased in only one state (North Dakota). Access to on-campus child care varies tremendously by state, with more than 8 in 10 public colleges in California and New York providing campus child care, for example, compared with Texas (where 38 percent of public colleges providing campus care) or North Carolina (27 percent).
Even when campuses have child care centers available to students, the number of slots typically does not meet the demand. A 2016 IWPR survey of nearly 100 campus children’s center leaders found that 95 percent of centers at two- and four-year schools had a waiting list, with an average waitlist length of 82 children.
“Campus child care is a critical support for students balancing parenting responsibilities with school and, often, work,” said IWPR Vice President and Executive Director Barbara Gault, Ph.D. “As need increases around the country, we must preserve existing child care resources and explore strategies for expanding access to supports for student parents.”
Nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) student parents are living in or near poverty. Paying for community-based child care can be an insurmountable obstacle to students already struggling to pay tuition and living expenses. For instance, families earning less than $1500 per month typically spend 40 percent of their incomes on child care. Previous IWPR research shows that student parents leave school with higher levels of debt than other students.
Rather than assisting students with the high cost of community-based child care some states have subsidy rules that make it difficult for college students, especially, to get help. IWPR’s analysis finds that 11 states require college students to also be employed to be eligible for child care subsidies, and 3 of those states (Arizona, Kentucky, and Washington) require parents to work at least 20 hours per week—an amount proven to diminish rates of college completion among students overall.
More access to child care would be likely to improve low rates of college completion among students with children. Research at one community college found that student parents who used campus child care were three times as likely to graduate or transfer to a B.A. program compared with those who did not use campus child care.
Supports for students with children are also important for closing racial/ethnic gaps in postsecondary education: Nearly half of all Black women in college are raising young children, and two in five Native American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women and one in three Latina students are mothers to dependent children.
“College degrees promote economic well-being for low-income families, and have far-reaching benefits for communities, economies, and for multiple generations,” noted IWPR Vice President and Executive Director Barbara Gault, Ph.D. “To support college success efforts, states should align their child care subsidy rules and investments with higher education completion goals, rather than putting obstacles in the paths of families working hard to build a stable future.”
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR)
is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies.