Here’s How Hard It Is for Students With Kids to Pay for Child Care

child care assistance
Karla Washington, an undergraduate student in las Vegas, earns less than $11,000 a year from her job which must cover food, rent, health and child care. AP Photo/Isaac Brekken

We applaud busy parents attending college to further their careers. But do we realize how hard it is for them to afford their education while caring for their families?

The NPR Ed blog recently shed light on the challenge facing many of the nearly 5 million student parents in the United States.

Only one state in the entire country — Louisiana — has “affordable” center-based infant care, meaning the cost averages less than 7% of the median income for a married couple, according to a Child Care Aware of America report cited by NPR.

If you live anywhere else, paying for child care might be a huge obstacle, forcing you to choose between your education and your family.

So much for having it all.

How Hard is it for Student Parents to Get Child Care Assistance?

Federal aid for child care is available to low-income students and families through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). But requirements vary widely, as block grants give each state control over its own eligibility guidelines, NPR explains.

Armed with data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), NPR charted how difficult it is for lower-income student parents in each state to obtain child care subsidies.

In many states, a student must either be working, enrolled in a certain number of credit hours or meet academic progress standards to keep their child care assistance. Some only offer child care subsidies for a limited amount of time, and others restrict assistance to two-year or vocational students.

And sometimes, it’s a mix-and-match game of requirements that stack up to feel impossible for parents to achieve.

The states where it’s toughest to get aid? Arizona, Kentucky and Washington all require parents to work at least 20 hours per week throughout their studies, the IPWR reports.

Rhode Island and Georgia both have enrollment-hour requirements, limit the amount of time a student assistance time limit and restrict assistance to students in limited degree programs — a triple threat of challenges. NPR points out that in Rhode Island, students can only request CCDBG funds if they’re in a training program that lasts less than a year.

On campus, the outlook is just as bleak.

Do Colleges Offer Child Care?

Another option is seeking an on-campus child care center, but good luck with the waitlist.

Ninety-five percent of campus child care centers at two- and four-year colleges in the United States had waitlists with an average of 82 children, according to a 2016 survey by the IWPR.

The long waitlists are a result of disappearing child care centers; over the past 13 years, the percentage of public four-year schools with campus child care centers dropped from 54% to 49%. At community colleges, that rate fell from 52% of campuses offering child care to just 44%.

To put it into perspective, the IWPR explains it this way: “Vermont, ranked last, has only six institutions: one public two year and five public four year — and just one campus child care center.”

Vermont may only have 12,000 students in its state college system, but how many of them are parents struggling to make ends meet while working on their degrees? Probably too many.

Check out NPR’s chart to see how tough it is to receive subsidies for child care in your state.

Your Turn: Are you a student parent? How do you pay for child care?

Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder.