Hillary Clinton speaks to Florida voters during a rally in Tampa on Sept. 6. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Hillary Clinton has reaffirmed her commitment to invest in child-care programs on college campuses, spotlighting the need for a service that has been disappearing at many schools just as the number of student parents grows.

At a voter registration event at the University of South Florida in Tampa on Tuesday, the Democratic presidential nominee told students, “I want to do more to help you to make sure every student parent has a safe place to bring their child while they’re studying and working, and trying to get their education.”

Clinton named campus child care a priority in the $350 billion higher education proposal she released in August 2015. Her plan calls for increased funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program, a federal initiative that provides on-campus care for the children of low-income college students. Clinton wants to increase the program budget from $15 million to $250 million a year, with an offer to match the money that states or colleges contribute. She anticipates the investment will create 250,000 child-care slots.

“No family should have to pay more than 10 percent of your income on child care — and right now, you have a lot of states where it costs more for child care than tuition at college and university,” Clinton said Tuesday.

Her remarks arrive amid new research showing that although the number of college students with children is rising, the percentage of public institutions with child-care centers on campus is falling.

The Institute of Women’s Policy Research found that 49 percent of four-year state colleges and universities provide child care, compared to 55 percent in 2003. The decline is steeper at community colleges, where only 44 percent of schools offer services, down from 53 percent 13 years ago.

“Wide variation in availability of child care on college campuses and in the restrictiveness of eligibility rules for child care assistance means some student parents have limited options for accessing the services they need to successfully navigate the path to graduation,” IWPR researchers wrote.

Some states have subsidy rules that make it difficult for college students to access care. Eleven states require college students to be employed to be eligible for child-care subsidies, according to the report. Three of those states — Arizona, Kentucky and Washington — say parents must work at least 20 hours a week, which could make it more difficult for them to complete a degree on time. 

Researchers at the institute said parents with a source of quality, reliable child care stand a better chance of graduating, citing a study of student parents at Monroe Community College in Upstate New York. Students at the community college who used the campus child-care center were three times as likely to graduate or go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree than those who did not take advantage of the service.

In the past 20 years, the number of parents in college has grown from 3.2 million to 4.8 million, increasing demand for child care and making slots more difficult to come by, according to the report. An institute survey of nearly 100 administrators at campus child-care centers found that 95 percent of centers at two- and four-year colleges maintained a waiting list with an average of 82 children.

Among states with more than 33 colleges and universities, researchers say California, Illinois, New York and Washington provide the best child-care coverage for student parents, with at least 75 percent of their institutions offering campus child care. California and New York have the highest coverage, at more than 80 percent, while North Carolina and Texas had the lowest, with 27 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

Without access to child-care services on campus, student parents, a majority of whom are raising children by themselves, are forced to find alternative options that can be pricey. In 33 states and the District of Columbia, infant-care costs exceed the average cost of in-state college tuition at public four-year colleges, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“College degrees promote economic well-being for low-income families, and have far-reaching benefits for communities, economies and for multiple generations,” said Barbara Gault, vice president and executive director at IWPR. “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.”

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