Women in School: Child Care Access Means Parents in School, So Why is it Being Cut?

Since 2004, the number of college students raising children has gone up by 30 percent, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. There are now almost 5 million student parents in colleges across the U.S., and their number is projected to grow at a faster rate than traditional students — especially at community and for-profit colleges. According to IWPR, women are more likely to be grappling with the dual struggle of child care and college, and black women are doing so more than any other demographic. But at the same time, the availability of childcare services on campuses has been declining.

For low-income women in school, the absence of accessible child care means the likelihood of dropping out of school all together, though many are pursuing higher education as a way out of low-paid jobs and economic insecurity. It’s a good strategy. Higher education is positively correlated with income, and adults with more than a high school education are less likely to be unemployed or on public assistance. But a dearth of affordable and accessible child care options leave higher education and its accompanying benefits out of reach for many low-income women.

Karina is pursuing her Associates Degree at a community college. She also works two jobs and manages care of her daughter with help from her family.

23-year-old Karina Escobar, a student parent who shared her story with Women Employed, says after juggling work, school, and care for her 4-month old daughter, “I feel like I don’t rest enough. I always say the day I’m resting is the day I’m financially stable.”

With the absence of sufficient childcare centers and high costs at the centers that do exist, single mothers like Karina have to rely on help from family and friends for child care when they are in class and working — help that’s not guaranteed and often falls through. The result? Low-paid working women with children withdraw from school. The economy suffers too, when schools fail to serve workers who are seeking the skills they need to acquire better paying jobs and become financially secure.

We are clearly moving in the wrong direction when it comes to making higher education more accessible for working parents trying to improve life for themselves and their families. Recognizing that parents represent a high share of college students, we need to think specifically about their needs and not just those of students coming straight from high school without children. As a country, we must provide more financial support for parents struggling to afford child care and that must include student parents working toward a credential or degree. It is also imperative that community colleges focus on making child care more accessible (for example, offering child care and classes at more times, rather than on a 9 to 5 schedule). Of course, the high cost of school fees is another barrier for students, with tuition more than doubling in the last two decades. Federal and state level policies should also focus on expanding and increasing financial aid, and consider the cost of child care when determining eligibility.

Education is no longer a luxury — it is a necessity. And we, as a nation, should be doing more to ensure that student parents can afford and succeed in higher education, not less.

Read the third and final part in our Women in School series here.