As high schools and colleges around the country hold their commencements over the next few weeks, one message will become perfectly clear: Education is critical to getting ahead. College graduates tend to earn more than those without a college degree, and their rate of unemployment is about half of their high-school educated counterparts. Many employers won’t even consider an applicant who doesn’t have a college degree.
Yet, as college becomes more and more important to achieving financial security, it’s becoming more and more difficult to afford that degree.
Students paid an average of about $29,000 a year in tuition and fees to attend a four-year, private not-for-profit institution and about $21,700 a year for a four-year public not-for profit institution in 2010, according to a report by the American Association of University Women.
As a result, many students have turned to community colleges, where tuition and fees averaged about $3,100 a year in 2010. About 40 percent of all undergraduates attend a community college, and women accounted for about 57 percent of those students in 2010.
Yet, even these lower-priced options aren’t accessible to everyone for a simple reason: They don’t offer child-care services.
Many students with young children aren’t able to go to college because they can’t find — or can’t afford — someone to take care of the kids while they’re in class. One report found that in more than two dozen states, the cost of day care is more than the cost of tuition and fees for public colleges.
While child care is an issue for all parents, it’s a particular issue for mothers. About 1.3 million of the 2 million student parents at community colleges in 2008 were mothers, according to the AAUW.
One way to help these moms stay in school is to provide on-campus child care services.
This solution would provide multiple benefits. It would allow parents to get an education while also providing care for their children. On-campus child care services would help students earn a little bit of money by working at the center. And, it would allow students who may be pursuing degrees in education to get some hands-on experience at a convenient location.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is working to make this option attractive. To encourage college students to study and work in child care, the Right Start Act would offer a new tax credit for any college graduate who specializes in child care and works at least 1,200 hours a year in a child care facility.
The federal government already provides funding for on-campus child care services through the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program. The program, which is administered by the Department of Education, provided about $15 million to fund 113 projects in fiscal year 2013. Funding for this program peaked in fiscal year 2001 with $25 million awarded to 307 projects. Unfortunately, only $3.3 million in funding is available for an anticipated 38 new projects and the Department of Education is not accepting new applications for CCAMPIS grants for fiscal year 2014.
Fewer than half of the more than 1,000 community colleges across the country offer on-campus child care, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The AAUW reported that just one of West Virginia’s twelve community colleges, just three of Virginia’s 24 community colleges, and just 16 of Florida’s 43 community colleges offer on-campus child care. Even in the Northeastern states, which are often seen as a bastion of higher education, on-campus child care isn’t guaranteed. For example, whereas Rhode Island’s only community college does provide on-campus child care, just 69 percent of Massachusetts’ 16 community colleges and 79 percent of Connecticut’s community colleges provide this service.
This lack of convenient child care prevents many student parents from getting their degree. According to the AAUW, relative to students who don’t have dependent children, student parents are more likely to drop out of school due to caregiving responsibilities and limited financial resources.
The lack of facilities at many colleges combined with reduced federal funding for those facilities may mean that it’s time to look to alternative ways for student parents to go to college.
Instead of requiring moms to go to campus for their education, maybe the campuses should be bringing college to the moms? Such a movement, in fact, is happening with online educational services.
For example, one private university in New Hampshire is offering an online degree through its non-profit subsidiary. This option is affordable. Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America charges $2,500 a year, or $10,000 in total, to receive a bachelor’s degree.
It’s also flexible. Moms can study while the kids are napping. Or, they can organize play groups for the older kids and take turns watching the kids while the student-moms study. Or, they can study online after finishing work.
Given the rise in not just the cost of traditional colleges but also in the cost of child-care, it may be that an online education is the best and most affordable way to meet the needs of today’s student parents. At the very least, it would mean that the lack of on-campus child care doesn’t mean that mom can’t earn a college degree.