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Child Care Assistance for Undergrads is Coming!

By: Helen Mederer and Barb Silver 

In the fall of 2017 a new Child Care Financial Assistance Program will become available to undergraduate URI students.  Created and managed by the URI Work-Life Committee, this pilot program will be sponsored by Enrollment Services for two years, during which plans to permanently institutionalize it will be underway, including determining the scope of need and identifying sustainable funding sources.  Beginning Fall 2017, financial assistance of up to $500 per semester will be offered to approved applicants.  More details and application instructions will be available over the summer.  Faculty and staff are asked to share this information with student parents they know.

Why is this important? Almost 25% of college students overall in the United States are parents of dependent children, as are over one-third of low-income, first-generation students, and students of color [i]  Unlike in many other countries, securing quality, affordable child care is a significant, and sometimes impossible, challenge not just for American workers, but for student parents, particularly those with lower incomes.  The United States has the lowest college completion rates in the developed world, hovering around 55%.[ii]  Parenting contributes significantly to this high rate: the drop-out rate of student parents is 53% compared to 31% of non-parents, and it is estimated that becoming a parent is a key factor in almost one-half of the female students who drop out of school.[iii] [iv]  Many of these student parents will leave school burdened not only with significant college debt but also without a college degree.

The increasing cost of child care in our country is “staggering”[v] for lower wage workers and is, in fact, virtually untenable for many workers and students.  One study, conducted by Child Care Aware of America, of 31 states including Rhode Island, found that the cost of day care was more than the cost of in-state tuition and fees at those states’ public colleges.[vi]  According to their data, in Rhode Island the average annual cost of full-time center-based infant care is $12,867 compared to a public college tuition rate of $10,934 (however, in 2017, URI’s in-state tuition is 13,800), and that single parents in Rhode Island can expect to pay 49% of their income for full-time infant center care. Low-income parents are disproportionately burdened, with the lower the income, the higher the proportion of income dedicated to child care.[vii]  This is especially burdensome for single student parents, of whom 78% are considered low income.[viii]  As the Pew Research Center reports, an increasing number of parents are simply avoiding unaffordable child care costs by staying home,[ix] and likely the same can be said for student parents who drop out of school.  A Wisconsin Financial Aid Study indicated that 23% of undergraduates enrolled in college in 2008 had at least one child – yet less than 10% of student parents completed their bachelor’s degree within six years of entering college.[x]

While Rhode Island offers the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) for lower income employed parents or parents in training,[xi] it does not offer assistance to student parents, as many other states do. The only way students can qualify for state assistance is to work 20 hours or more a week, in addition to attending school and parenting.   And, unlike many other schools across the country, until now University of Rhode Island student parents have no university-based financial assistance either.

We know from a 2014 URI Pregnant and Parenting Survey conducted by the URI Work-Life Committee and the Women’s Center that these students face unique challenges, including an extended time to graduation, and that financial assistance is crucial. Of a list of seven supports URI could offer pregnant and/or parenting students, by a wide margin the top 2 priorities identified by the 165 respondents were financial aid and child care subsidies.  Read the full article here.

2014 URI Pregnant and Parenting Student Survey.  In 2014, a survey of URI pregnant and parenting students was conducted by the URI Work-Life Committee and the Women’s Center. Of the 165 respondents, 72% of whom were female, slightly more than half were undergraduate students and just under half were graduate students. A large percentage of these, 61% of undergraduates and 45% of graduate students, were part-time, and almost half of these agreed that their part-time status was completely or partly due to being pregnant or parenting.  About a third were pregnant or had a pregnant partner, and 80% were caring for dependent children (87 female and 32 male). Twenty-six  (17%) were both pregnant and parenting, and 13 (8.5%) had a child with special needs.  Most (84%) reported having a partner or spouse with whom they share (or planned to share) parenting responsibilities, a quarter of whom were also students.  Over two-thirds (70%) of these pregnant and/or parenting students were also employed.  When asked about child care costs, 41% of these students reported spending over $250 a month on child care costs, and 22% reported spending over $500 a month.

The survey covered many aspects of the experience of being a pregnant and/or parenting student at URI.  The qualitative comments offered spoke compellingly to the multiple challenges, complications, and stressors experienced by student parents, most of whom are also working to make ends meet. To summarize some of the major takeaways, pregnant and parenting students at URI:

  1. need financial help (tuition and child care subsidies)
  2. likely will require extended time to graduation
  3. do not generally feel supported by the University
  4. are mostly also employed
  5. often have challenges completing assignments and attending class
  6. report moderate levels of stress
  7. experience stress when their status makes them feel isolated or like an outsider
  8. experience stress when their status interferes with their academic performance
  9. are generally supported by their instructors, but not always
  10. need to better understand their rights, and to feel justified in requesting academic accommodations
  11. mostly report being in a relationship with a partner who will help

Some specific findings include:

  • Financial assistance.  Of a list of seven supports URI could offer pregnant and/or parenting students, by a wide margin the top 2 priorities identified were financial aid and child care subsidies. Fully 72% ranked financial aid as a number 1 or 2 priority, and 44% ranked child care subsidies as number a number 1 or 2 priority.
  • Time to graduate.  Most agreed that their pregnant and/or parenting status will or has extended their time to graduation and their ability to complete assignments or attend class
  • Lack of institutional support.  80% did not agree that URI’s resources and policies regarding pregnant and parenting students were supporting them
  • Stress.  Stress among pregnant and parenting students is moderate to high (3.27 on a 1-5 scale), and is correlated with feeling like an outsider and the interference with completing academic requirements

[i] Nelson, B., Froehner, M., & Gault, B. (March 2013).  College students with children are common and face many challenges in completing higher education. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Washington, DC. Retrieved May 8, 2016 from http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/college-students-with-children-are-common-and-face-many-challenges-in-completing-higher-education-summary

[ii] National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Signature Report (November 2014).  Completing college:  A national view of student attainment rates – fall 2008 cohort. Retrieved May 8, 2016 from https://nscresearchcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/SignatureReport8.pdf

[iii]National Women’s Law Center (March 2010). How to keep pregnant and parenting students from dropping out:  A primer for schools.  Retrieved May 8, 2016 from  http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/How-to-Keep-Pregnant-and-Parenting-Students-from-Dropping-Out.pdf

[iv] Nelson, et al, ibid.

[v] Paquete, D. (October 6, 2015). The staggering cost of day care when you make only the minimum wage.  The Washington Post. Retrieved May 8, 2016 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/06/the-staggering-cost-of-daycare-when-you-make-only-the-minimum-wage/

[vi] Child Care Aware of America (2015).  The high cost of child care:  2015.  Retrieved May 8, 2016 from http://usa.childcareaware.org/advocacy-public-policy/resources/reports-and-research/costofcare/

[vii] Smith, K. & Adams, N. Carsey Insitute UNH spring 2013. Policy brief. Child care subsidies critical for low-income families amid rising child care expenses. Retrieved May 8, 2016 from  http://scholars.unh.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1194&context=carsey

[viii] Nelson, et al, ibid

[ix] Pew Research Center (April 8, 2014).  Rising cost of child care may help explain recent increase in stay-at-home moms.  Retrieved May 8, 2016 from  http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/08/rising-cost-of-child-care-may-help-explain-increase-in-stay-at-home-moms/

[x] Goldrick-Rab, S., Minikel-Lacocque, J., & P. Kinsley (2011). Managing to make it:  The college trajectories of traditional-age students with children.  The Wisconsin Financial Aid Study.  Retrieved May 8, 2016 from http://www.wiscaid.org/documents/APPAM_ParentPaper_WISCAID.pdf

[xi] Rhode Island Department of Human Services: Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) Information. Retrieved May 4, 2016 from http://www.dhs.ri.gov/Programs/CCAPProgramInfo.php.

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