Millennial Parents Need Access to Higher Education, Too

By Annie Wood
This first appeared on

It goes without saying that the cost of college is unmanageable for many Americans. For some Millennials, attending college is further complicated by balancing a young family. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 26 percent of college students–4.8 million men and women–are raising children of their own. Students who also happen to be parents make up 30 percent of the entire national community college student body. Millennial parents are a group of college students often overlooked in the student loan debt narrative, but advocates for affordable and accessible higher education are pointing to policy solutions that would include and empower college students with children.

Currently, there are federally funded programs in place at some college campuses funded to ease the burden of the cost of childcare while parents pursue a college degree. Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) programs promote the participation of low-income parents in postsecondary education by providing campus-based child care. Students who are Pell-eligible and attend a CCAMPIS grantee institution can access daycare on campus or care funded by the grant and outsourced within the community.

The issue of affordable and accessible child care has been elevated by advocates and lawmakers recently. Earlier this year, President Obama emphasized the urgency of the issue: “[Affordable, high-quality childcare] is not a nice-to-have—it’s a must-have. So it’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or as a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.”

Despite the increased attention to improving access to childcare, Millennial college students with families are seeing their level of access diminish. Portland Community College recently terminated the vital service of an on-campus childcare center, citing the rising cost of care per child and other constraints, and instead offered a list of private providers nearby. For students elsewhere, policies for enrollment in free childcare seriously restrict students’ academic options, like having to take only courses that apply to one’s major directly.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s findings regarding students who are also parents are staggering: Only 33 percent attain a degree or certificate within six years, and 61 percent of student parents have no available money to contribute to the many costs of college. What’s more, women with children should expect to carry, on average, $4,283 more debt one year after graduation than their childless female counterparts.

Since one in four postsecondary students is also a parent, advocates at the think tank Young Invincibles have emphasized the issue of childcare when talking about managing the soaring cost of college. The cost of infant care, according to Young Invincibles, is higher than tuition at most public colleges. Annually, this ranges from $4,515 per year per child in Tennessee to $12,320 per year in Massachusetts. And although CCAMPIS programs provide some students with children access to childcare, a recent survey indicated that the average childcare center at colleges and universities has a waitlist 85 percent as large as its total capacity.

Students who are parents already spend one-third less time on their studies compared to their counterparts without their own children. Many student parents also work low-wage jobs with unpredictable and unstable scheduling.

While the federally-funded CCAMPIS programs help some, Young Invincibles urges the Department of Education to restore and expand funding, to make CCAMPIS a matching grant program to expand its capacity, and to incentivize schools to invest in student parents and their outcomes by receiving CCAMPIS funding to increase their retention rate. But it’s not just parent students who have a stake in policies shaping more robust access to affordable childcare.

“Increasingly, having a postsecondary degree is becoming a necessity for economic security; by 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education,” researches from Young Invincibles write. “Investing in the child care needs of young parents is a smart move to support the economies of young families and the nation’s economy as a whole.”

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