Lira sought advice from another student parent, who pointed her to a university program that could help her pay for daycare through the Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program, a federal grant that subsidizes childcare for parents enrolled in college. She said that without those funds, she would pay between $300 and $400 per week for daycare. With CCAMPIS subsidies, however, Lira pays just $360 per semester. Her son is almost four, and Lira will receive her bachelor’s degree in nursing in May. “I definitely wouldn’t have had any money to pay for daycare, and that would mean I wouldn’t be able to go to school because I don’t have family in Madison at all, so I just rely on daycare,” Lira said.
“We’re talking about just the reality of who needs these services, and so it is a gender and race issue, it’s an economic issue, it spans so many of these categories,” said Neena Chaudhry, the senior counsel and director of education at the National Women’s Law Center. Access to childcare ultimately affects students’ ability to complete their education, which has major long-term effects, especially for women of color, she said. “We already know that down the line, the wage gap for women still exists and persists, and is even greater for women of color. So, it’s critical that women in general—and particularly women of color—are able to get the degrees that they need and advance and get into the fields that they want to.”
Lira said that even with the childcare subsidies, along with a full scholarship, financial aid for living expenses and a fiance who works full time, she still works part-time as a nursing assistant to fund the copay for childcare and other expenses. Her parents would love to help, she said, but that’s just not feasible. “They’re my parents, they’re always going to try to provide, even with 20 bucks to fill up my gas tank or something like that,” Lira said. “But most of the time I don’t take it from them because I know they don’t have money.”
“I think most colleges need to come around to an acceptance of who their population is, that the norm is no longer that 18-year-old coming straight out of high school but potentially that 26-year-old who has a part-time job and a child,” said Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy who served as the project manager of the Benefits Access for College Completion program. BACC worked with community and technical colleges to connect low-income students to the resources that would help them succeed. At LaGuardia Community College, which worked with Duke-Benfield, a quarter of students are parents. LaGuardia opened its Early Childhood Learning Center in 1978 and served almost 200 children last fall, providing student parents with nearby, subsidized childcare. Of the parents who use the ECLC, 90 percent said that they would not be able to afford both childcare and tuition, according to Michael Baston, the vice president of student affairs at LaGuardia. Baston said that for parents in the student body—70 percent of which has a family income below $25,000—campus childcare can help remove a significant obstacle. “Because we have this program on campus, they can leave their children here and then they can actually study and not have to worry about running back to the neighborhood to pick up the child and [later] try to run back to school,” Baston said.