When someone says the word student, what comes to mind? Often, we think of eighteen-year-olds fresh out of high school, enrolled fulltime, with limited outside obligations to such things as work or family. But, according to a report by the Center for Postsecondary Economic Success, today nearly a quarter of all college and university students have children they are responsible for, with 13 percent of students being single parents.
Another report, this one by Elisa Garcia for The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, states that child care is a crucial issue for 3.9 million American students. Does this hold true for students at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC)?
Tina Barton, a sophomore at EMCC, has two children, ages 11 and 12. Barton is pursuing a degree in Nonprofit Leadership Management. She says, “Child care is too expensive. I arrange [my] classes around my children’s school. If I used aftercare at my children’s school it would be $8 an hour for one child, so it is too expensive times two.”
Availability of child care, or lack thereof, can even affect students who don’t have children of their own, like Katelyn Wiley, a sophomore at EMCC who is studying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photojournalism. Wiley takes care of her 4 -year-old sister Trinity, while their parents are at work during the day. According to Wiley, “It is extremely hard to try to arrange my school schedule around watching her.”
According to Susan Tavakoli, vice president of Administrative Services at EMCC, in her time at EMCC, since 2003, she is aware of several attempts to fund the building of a Childcare center on campus, but “other buildings took priority over building a child care center only because the demand was very low.” Tavakoli explained that “Plans to build a child care center were tabled in favor of building more learning spaces because the college was going through tremendous enrollment growth.”
What is offered at EMCC instead, is the Child Care Assistance Award. The award, which is a scholarship voucher program funded by the school, is based on financial need. Students who utilize this funding have the ability to choose any child care provider they like, so long as the provider is licensed by either the Arizona Department of Health Services or the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
The award ranges from $150 per semester for a student taking three credits who has one child, to $1,200 per semester for a student taking twelve or more credits who has three or more children.
Tavakoli added that “Very few child care centers now exist throughout the Maricopa Community College District because the cost of running the centers is not offset by the fees or the demand. And potentially there’s a lot of liability associated with it.”
Until recently, six of the ten Maricopa Community College campuses provided some form of on-campus child care program. Now, however, it is only available at three campuses: Mesa, Gateway, and Phoenix.
The Phoenix College Family Care and Headstart Center program is under the auspices of the college’s Applied Technology Family and Consumer Science Department. Observing and participating at the child care center is also woven into some of the college’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) curriculum.
Part of the staff is made up of interns from the school’s ECE program, and others are work-study participants. The funding for the program is partly from a U.S. Department of Education grant called Child Care Access Means Parents in School – Childcare Access Resources for Everyone (CCAMPIS-CARE).
The program at Phoenix College is always in high-demand. Gloria McGinty is the director of the facility and according to her, “The parents really value having the program on site.”
The facility, which has a total capacity of only 58, always has a long waiting list. Currently, the waiting list is over 30 names long for the program serving two-year-olds and over 60 families are waiting for availability in the program serving three-year-olds to five-year-olds.
Students attending Phoenix College, either in-person or online, for at least 3 units, who are Pell Grant eligible, pay as little as $3.25 per hour to have their children taken care of by the Center’s board-approved staff.
While certain students strongly feel that there should be a child care center on campus, the topic does not seem to be a big concern for the overall student population. Rene Willekens, dean of Planning, Research & Effectiveness cites a recent survey conducted using the Noel Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory. Out of all 79 questions in the survey that had an importance scale, child care ranked 78.
Willekens added, “There is no doubt that some students could benefit greatly from on-site child care center; however, serving these students requires a substantial investment and only a handful of students would receive the service. With colleges across the nation facing budget cuts, investing in child care centers may come at the cost of reducing support services that benefit a larger number of students.”
Due to this, EMCC has chosen to support other investments. One such program is the Estrella Hall expansion project. The EMCC website states “by retrofitting the existing space and adding physical buildings, the project expanded student learning opportunities.”
During the spring of 2014, twenty to twenty-five EMCC students received between $150 and $1,200 for an entire semester to offset their child care costs. Yvette Cooke, administrative secretary for EMCC’s Office of Student Life and Leadership, which is in charge of the Assistance Program, said the thing she most wants students to know is, “That money is available for those who need it. Assistance is available. Please contact the Student Union if you need help paying for child care.”
For further information on the EMCC Childcare Assistance Program or to download an application, visit http://www.estrellamountain.edu/students/student-life/childcare-assistance
What can students do if they think on-campus childcare should be available at EMCC? Cooke said, “We have monthly Coffee Talks here at the Student Union. It’s an informal Q&A session between students and the administration. Students are always encouraged to come and discuss issues that are important to them.”