What to Know About Child Care Access

Approximately 4.8 million undergraduate students are raising dependent children.

Approximately 4.8 million undergraduate students are raising dependent children.

By Farran Powell

As a 37-year-old enrolled at a local community college, Tracy Mingo shares the experience of many of today's college students: She's a parent. 

More than a quarter of undergraduates – about 4.8 million students – are raising dependent children, according to the most recent data published by the Institute for Women's Policy Research

Mingo decided to return to school for a career change after losing her job. "After I lost my job, I was really at a crossroads. I knew I wanted to do something different, and I was afraid because I knew that would require extensive child care – child care that would be able to handle an academic schedule as well as a professional work schedule," she says. 

The single mom from Queens, New York, holds a bachelor's degree in business and is pursuing an associate degree at CUNY LaGuardia Community College in deaf studies. Mingo enrolled her son, now 4 years old, into the college's on-campus preschool; the college also offers an infant/toddler program as well as an extended day program for older children through its Early Childhood Learning Center

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio implemented his campaign promise in 2015 for the city to provide universal prekindergaren to all 4-year-olds. Under the initiative, LaGuardia Community College provides free pre-K instruction to 4-year-olds in addition to other prekindergarten programs that serve children ages 2 through 5. 

"When I do have classes, there is a charge of $11 per day," Mingo says, who uses the school's extended day program that provides child care to children ages 3 through 12 between 3 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. 

Gail Mellow, president of CUNY LaGuardia Community College, says the college provides subsidized child care for its parent students. "Most of our students wouldn't be able to afford both child care and tuition, so we enroll children as young as 12 months," Mellow says. 

Students who use the college's Early Childhood Learning Center Programs pay between $9 and $14 daily for daytime care. Prices vary depending on the number of hours a parent student uses as well the child's age. For a student with a toddler, for example, care from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. costs $14.

The college receives funding for its child care programs through the city and grant funding. But even with subsidies, there's a cost associated with most of the school's programs except its preschool for 4-year-olds. Most on-campus child care centers require student parents to pay some form of tuition or fees for campus child care – even if they are subsidized, experts say.

For undergraduates with dependent children, here are few things to know about child care programs for student parents.

More federal funds are available to support child care programs at two-year and four-year colleges. Congress recently tripled the funding authorized for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program, known as CCAMPIS. The program provides grant awards on four-year cycles to two-year and four-year colleges that provide on-campus child care. With the federal spending package that passed in March, Congress increased the Department of Education's annual funding for the program from $15 million to $50 million.

"The Department will use the nearly $35 million increase provided for FY 2018 to make more than 200 additional awards to [higher education institutions] that will support campus-based child-care programs serving low-income parents in postsecondary education," said a U.S. Education Department spokesperson in a written statement to U.S. News. 

Among the 86 higher education institutions that received a CCAMPIS grant last year, the vast majority were community colleges. The Department of Education awarded grants ranging from around $15,000 to Rich Mountain Community College in Arkansas to $427,000 to the University of New Mexico. Mt. San Antonio Community College District in California received the second-largest grant among these institutions at $375,000. The City University of New York system – which includes seven community colleges and 11 four-year colleges – received more than $330,000 in federal funds to support child care programs throughout its institutions. 

Prior to the increase in funding, the program served roughly 5,000 students annually nationwide. While higher education experts welcome the increase in CCAMPIS grants, they say more money is needed to help students who care for children.

"It's a drop in the bucket, but a really important drop. The focus on helping parents get through educational requirements is enormously important – particularly for low-income people," Mellow says.

Some states fund child care centers at public universities. The Minnesota Department of Health, for example, has a Student Parent Support Initiative to support health and educational needs of expectant and parenting students at Minnesota colleges. As part of the initiative, St. Cloud State University offers on-campus child care through the Lindgren Child Care Center, which provides care for children from two months to 5 years old. 

Some universities have offered child care on campus for several decades. The University of California—Berkeley began its program in the 1970s. 

"We take children from three months of age up until the child is kindergarten-eligible," says Mary-Ann Spencer Cogan, chief of staff for the residential and student services programs at UC—Berkeley, who adds that the school's child care program is limited to 263 spaces. 

While there is usually waiting list, Cogan says priority is given to student parents. "There are waitlists, and primarily the people on the waitlists are staff and faculty."

Some students receive a full subsidy, depending on their eligibility determined by the California Department of Education. For student families who do pay, the cost can vary from less than $100 a month to $500, Cogan says. 

When it comes to finding out about the type of child care services a college provides, Cogan advises prospective students to identify themselves early as a student parent. "Don’t just talk to the admissions. If the campus does have child care programs, find out who to talk to and reach out to the programs directly," she says.

Farran Powell is an education reporter at U.S. News, covering paying for college and graduate school. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at fpowell@usnews.com.

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