Monday, April 6

Submission: Affordable child care at UCLA would greatly benefit student parents

UCLA needs to offer child care for student parents if it wants to be considered an equal opportunity university.

Tuition at UCLA Early Care and Education is more than $1,500 per month, making it out of reach for most student parents struggling to make ends meet. Beyond being unaffordable, UCLA-affiliated child care centers also have extremely long waitlists, averaging 12 to 18 months.

Across the U.S., child care costs are wildly unaffordable. A report by the Care Index found that a year of child care on average costs more than a year of in-state college tuition. This financial burden is especially acute for student parents, most of whom are women. A recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found 26 percent of undergraduates are student parents and 71 percent of them are women. In addition, many student parents are women of color: Approximately 47 percent of African-American female undergraduates are parenting students.

Child care costs are a heavy burden for any parent, but the costs primarily fall on women. Although the proportion of stay-at-home parents who are fathers is rising, it’s still mostly women who end up staying home to take care of children. In California only 14 percent of stay-at-home parents are men, and most of them stay home because they have disabilities or are otherwise unable to work.

Among students with children, approximately half have children under the age of 5, the age at which children can attend public schools. Faced with steep child care bills, student parents are more likely to drop out of their degree programs, typically listing unaffordable child care as one of the main reasons, according to the American Association of University Women. Not surprisingly, studies such as one done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research have revealed that student parents are more likely to graduate when child care is offered on campus.

By neglecting to open affordable and accessible child care centers for students, the university makes it extremely difficult for a large proportion of women to seek out educational opportunities and complete their degrees. This exacerbates issues like the gender pay gap and the higher amount of student loan debt carried by women as opposed to men – the latter of which was demonstrated by AAUW.

The burden of high child care costs is regressive, and also keeps people with low incomes from pursuing higher education. People who have family connections or family wealth have access to child care resources that low-income parents do not. Not addressing this disparity creates major barriers to upward mobility for some of the people who need it most: struggling, low-income parents, who would love to have the opportunity to pursue a degree and someday seek out higher wages.

There are many benefits to offering child care. Studies show employers who offer child care have greater recruitment and retention; the military realized this long ago and now supports the largest employer-sponsored child care system in the country. Providing affordable child care on campus would not only promote equity and diversity, but it would likely boost graduation rates.

The California Department of Education’s Child Development division provides some tuition assistance for early childhood education, but if your total household gross monthly income is more than $4,030 you are not eligible. At that level of income, you’d be spending half of your income on child care. This extreme burden wouldn’t leave enough money to pay for rent and utilities, let alone food, transportation and other essentials.

UCLA is not the only university to have parenting students within the student body. Community colleges have long run child care centers on campus. In fact, California community colleges lead the way with 84 percent providing on-campus child care. It’s absurd UCLA does not offer the same level of services for their students as a community college does.

UCLA needs to do more to address the needs of parenting students. Neglecting their needs creates an insurmountable burden to many people who would seek a degree if they had an affordable option for child care. If UCLA claims to have equity, diversity and inclusion as some of its goals, it needs to walk the walk. The lack of child care on campus keeps more women, particularly those of color, from enrolling and from completing their degrees.

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