Child Care & College Affordability are Linked, & Leaders Must Address Both
A new report from The Education Trust and Generation Hope finds that there is no state in which a student parent can work 10 hours per week at the minimum wage and afford both tuition and child care at a public college or university
WASHINGTON – As student loan debt is now $1.7 trillion, cries to make college affordable are reaching a fever pitch. The Biden-Harris administration is currently deciding whether to cancel student debt and could unveil their plan by the end of the month. Though student debt relief is under consideration, child care affordability and access have, once again, fallen by the wayside in congressional negotiations. While rising college costs are on the minds of most college students, the students who are parents have been hit hardest as the nation struggles to cope with child care facility scarcities, child care worker shortages, and skyrocketing child care costs. The average cost of child care is an eye-popping $10,000 per year, per child.
A new report by The Education Trust and Generation Hope finds that student parents from a low-income background need to work a whopping 52 hours per week, on average, to cover child care and tuition costs at a four-year public college or university, and that’s after grants, scholarships, and earnings from working 10 hours per week at the state minimum wage are applied.
“Student parents are confronting the nation’s two fastest-growing expenditures – child care and college costs. As a former student parent myself, I know all too well the hurdles that must be overcome on the path to earning a degree,” said Brittani Williams, a senior higher education policy analyst at Ed Trust. “That is why we are calling on federal, state, and institutional leaders and policymakers to act now to ensure that student parents can thrive in college and enter competitive, well-paying, career fields to support themselves and their families.”
The COVID-19 pandemic only heightened the need for child care and affordable college access for student parents. The student loan repayment pauses provided a temporary reprieve as families grappled with surges in inflation and housing costs, but COVID-induced closures of many child-care centers across America and mass child-care worker shortages have left many student parents with few child-care options. And child-care affordability was not included in the recent reconciliation package that passed Congress last week, despite advocates’ objections. Student parents are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Student parents are disproportionately single, students of color, and from low-income backgrounds, the report notes. And they face a slew of obstacles to graduating college with a valuable degree in hand. They must often juggle work, school, and family responsibilities, and many are struggling to find child care and meet basic needs, especially now, amid a still-ongoing pandemic and when basic necessities are at a premium.
“There have been many barriers I have faced, but to name a few, it has been extremely difficult to maintain my full-time enrollment due to my responsibility as the main source of income for my family. Going to school full time means that my income has to drop in order to meet the requirements of enrollment,” said Joshua Castillo, a parenting student attending George Mason University.
“It’s difficult to find a job that will work around my school schedule because traditionally the colleges are operating during work hours. Amid this crisis, it has been very difficult to come by affordable child care. I previously had family to help, but those family members have since passed away during the pandemic.”
When looking across all states, the researchers find:
- There is no state in which a student parent can work 10 hours per week at the minimum wage and afford both tuition and child care at a public college or university.
- Many states that look affordable based on their reported net price actually have a wider affordability gap for student parents when one factors in the cost of child care.
- The out-of-pocket cost of attending a public college is 2 to 5 times higher for student parents than for their other low-income peers without children.
- Net price alone is not a good indicator of college affordability for student parents, because child care access and costs vary widely; the number of hours a student parent must work to afford college and child care will also depend on their state minimum wage.
“This report provides real data to reinforce the fact that student parents not only face more barriers than other students when it comes to earning a postsecondary credential but also significant financial barriers,” said Nicole Lynn Lewis, founder and CEO of Generation Hope. “Our hope is that policymakers and education leaders will use these findings to provide more funding and access to existing resources for this deserving student population.”
The report concludes with a number of actionable steps that federal, state, and institutional leaders can take to make college more affordable for student parents:
- Require all Title IV institutions to collect data on student parent status and mandate data reporting annually to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
- Double the Pell Grant to make college more affordable for student parents.
- Raise the federal minimum hourly wage to $20.
- Increase funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program to $500 million.
- Support student parents by increasing funding for early childhood education.
- Restore and make permanent the monthly child tax credit expanded in the American Rescue Plan Act.
- Collect data on how many young children have parents who are pursuing a higher education, so state leaders and policymakers can understand and expand access to high-quality child care for the children of student parents, especially those in Black and Latino families.
- Support student parents by allotting funding for new or expanded on-campus early child-care education programs when appropriating federal ECE funding. For example, states should prioritize funding for on-campus child care via the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) — which provides federal funds to states to help low-income family members pursuing an educational degree or training to pay for child care.
- Invest in high-quality campus-based child-care programs and ongoing, culturally and linguistically competent professional development for all early learning professionals in teaching roles — including assistant teachers and paraeducators — that uses evidence-based strategies for developmentally appropriate practice, child development (including social & emotional development), supporting children with delays and disabilities, and supporting language-rich environments, dual language learners, and collaborating with families.
- Prioritize the creation and expansion of more child-care options (including center-based programs, family child-care providers, Head Start programs, and public schools) on or near college campuses.
Recommendations for Higher Education Institutions
- Collect and report institutional-level data on student-parent enrollment, retention, completion, finances, and financial aid to the U.S. Department of Education via IPEDS surveys.
- Establish guidelines about who may be considered a student parent, including guardians and caregivers.
- Automate the inclusion of child-care expenses as an allowable cost category in determining the cost of attendance (COA), so student parents can qualify for higher amounts of financial aid.
- Leverage available state and federal funding to expand access to child care. College and university leaders should take full advantage of state and federal programs intended to support child care, while also pursuing Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) subsidies for their student parents. The federally funded Child Care Access Means Parents in School program (CCAMPIS) has led to an increase in student parent success.
- Help student parents access state child-care subsidies.
- Prioritize the children of student parents for on-campus child-care services over those of faculty and staff.
- Provide priority enrollment for student parents, so they can schedule classes around work and parenting duties.
- Ensure that campus-based child-care programs offer full-day programs and hours that align with course schedules and stay open year-round to better accommodate families’ needs.
- Implement quick and easy application processes that are accessible via multiple modes (e.g., online and smartphone adaptive/responsive, in person, and via phone call) in multiple languages. Enrollees should not be required to provide information about the citizenship or immigration status of a child or family member.