What is it like to go to college while taking care of a family? I have the privilege of saying I don’t know. What I do know is that I love working with community college students, in part because they are always juggling multiple responsibilities: taking care of family, working to pay the bills, going to class, and studying. I admire people who are dedicated to their goals, and I see the sacrifices that student parents make to complete their programs. At the same time, I recognize that lack of child care is one of the many reasons why community college students struggle to finish their degrees.
Reading this October 2017 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research makes me angry and ashamed. As a state, Washington is unnecessarily cruel to our student parents. In order to qualify for a child care subsidy, parents must work at least twenty hours a week and pursue a career/technical degree. Transfer degrees and Bachelors degrees are not qualified programs for this funding. Across the country, many campuses have on-site child care centers–but the waitlists are miles long. According to the report, on average, a campus child care center waitlist has 80 children on it.
Who is impacted by this policy? In Washington State, nearly 1 in 4 community college students are raising dependent children. Thirty-eight percent of students with children are students of color. Single parents attending college are more likely to be Black than white. And three-quarters of students who identify as single parents are women. The message is clear: if you are raising a family and going to college, you need to prove that you’re worthy of receiving the child care subsidy by working. This is just bizarre. Someone going to college and raising a family without having a half-time job is–what? Lazy? It’s horrendous that eligibility is limited to students only seeking career/technical degrees. What is the implication for student parents? That they shouldn’t have ambitions of getting four-year degrees that would lead to higher-wage careers?Every report about student success in community colleges emphasizes the need to close achievement gaps. These reports tout the ways colleges can implement policy changes like mandatory orientation and academic advising to increase student success. Rarely do I read reports where colleges acknowledge the structural inequality created by federal and state legislation that burdens people living on a low income, people raising families, and people of color.
The University of Washington has a Student Parent Resource Center that provides support to students raising families, including childcare assistance without any work requirement. I’d like to see more community colleges in Washington State provide dedicated resources for student parents. In the near future, I hope that the eligibility requirements for child care subsidy are revised to allow students to pursue whatever degree they want, without having to work.