This is anecdotal, I realize, but a summer class started this morning. Like most classes, the full roster in front of me did not correlate with a full classroom. Each first day, some students don’t show up. There’s been a nagging trend: most of the people who don’t show up are women. In fact, almost all of the ones who didn’t show up to my class this morning were women.
Obviously, being a woman doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a mother, and being a mother doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re the only caregiver available for your child. Still, it seems that a lot of the students who disappear mid-way through the semester are also women, women who have often been struggling to find stable childcare.
Perhaps this was weighing heavily on my mind because I’ve been thinking about the cost of motherhood in a different context: academia and graduate school. Just today, Mary Ann Mason has an article about how having a baby is a huge liability to women
who intend to go on to tenure-track faculty positions. While of course many fathers are actively involved in child-rearing (more than ever
), the professional penalties are not the same for men.
If these problems are so pronounced in higher education, where the students are expected to be older and already have the social and educational benefit of an undergraduate degree under their belts, where does that leave undergraduate students?
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) has a report on the impact of childcare access to low-income students (which can be downloaded for free here
). While many think of undergraduate students as the typical, fresh-out-of-high-school, eighteen-year-old, those of us who work in community colleges know that the idea of a “typical” student is somewhat laughable. My classrooms have 18 year olds, 60 year olds, and everything in between. We have students who have been out of high school for decades and students who have had entire careers (and, yes, families) before entering our classrooms. I have students who are not only the sole caregiver for their own young children, but often their young grandchildren as well. As declining high school graduate populations in many regions has sent four-year colleges that used to rely on the “typical” student to find new ways to recruit and retain non-traditional students, we know that non-traditional students have been in the picture for a long time. The IWPR study shows that nearly a quarter of undergraduate students are parents (3.9 million), and that half of them are single parents.
This number is even higher in community colleges, where parents make up 30% of the student body.
Here, again, the IWPR found a gender gap in the number of hours spent on childcare. 68% of mothers who are students reported spending 30 hours or more on childcare while only 42% of fathers made the same claim. In addition, fathers are twice as likely (15%) to say they spend no time doing childcare in a week (mothers: 7%).
Raising children, it seems, is a major barrier to educational access, especially for mothers. The study further found that higher education institutions were only meeting 4.8% of the childcare needs of their students.
Unfortunately, that resource is likely to decrease rather than increase as funding for child care in educational settings is getting cut and Head Start programs (another low-cost or no-cost option for student parents) have been hit hard by sequester cuts.
In the wake of these stark realities and sometimes bleak outlook on resources, what can we do to help remove this barrier to student success? Some schools have experimented with student-run co-ops for childcare. There has also been some calls for increased funding to the federal Child Care Access Means Parents in School program, which has seen greatly reduced funding since 2001. Even student groups specifically designed for those who are pregnant and parenting can allow students to get together and share resources and tips.
What do you think? What resources have you seen work to ensure that child care concerns don’t keep parents from succeeding in school?