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Student parents cannot cover tuition fees without long hours of work

Imagine this: you are a student parent attending a public college. You come from a low-income family, earning less than $30,000 a year. Between classes, studies, and parenting, you manage to work 10 hours a week for minimum wage. Do you think you can still afford both tuition and childcare?

According to a new report from Education Trust and Generation Hope released today, across the United States, a student parent from a low-income background (a household earning less than $30,000 a year) who works 10 hours a week at minimum wage still cannot afford both child care and tuition at a public university in any state in the United States. In fact, a student parent would have to work 52 hours a week at minimum wage to break even on their child care and tuition costs.

This report is the first of its kind to consider both tuition and child care costs to analyze college affordability for student-parents. It provides new data showing how multiple challenges, including low wages and the high cost of college education and childcare, create limitations that prevent many low-income students from attending college and getting their graduation on time.

The childcare crisis and student parents

Child care prices exceeded the annual inflation rate in 2019 and 2020. The average annual cost of child care in 2020 was just over $12,000, which is more than the annual tuition cost for a four-year public university in some states (which ranges from $9,702 in the South to $13,878 in the Northeast).

College has become more expensive for all students, but student parents, who often have to deal with tuition and childcare costs, face additional challenges.

Student parents are generally low-income. Two-thirds live at or near the federal poverty level and, unlike students without children, they have the added financial responsibility of caring for their children. Colleges do not consider these additional costs when calculating a student’s net price of attendance.

Child care and school fees

The study uses a metric called the “affordability gap” to determine how much more than 10 hours at minimum wage a student must work to break even on their childcare and tuition costs. The affordability gap is calculated by adding the net price of attendance (tuition and fees minus scholarships and grants) plus the cost of childcare minus the income earned by working 10 hours at minimum wage per week .

An earlier study by the Education Trust recommended that 10 hours of extra work per week is the maximum a student, parent or not, can manage while still succeeding academically. According to interviews with 100 student parents conducted by researchers for this report, half were employed and a third worked more than 40 hours a week.

These results highlight an important aspect of the study: child care costs or tuition fees alone do not paint a complete picture of the financial burden borne by student-parents. The study found that student-parents pay college fees that are two to five times higher than their childless peers from similar financial backgrounds when the cost of childcare is taken into account.

Even states that had low prices for in-state public college tuition turned out to be unaffordable once the cost of child care was factored in. For example, although the average net price of public college tuition in Florida is $5,400, this price increases to $16,800 to $17,300 once child care is taken into account. In New York, where the average annual cost of public college tuition is $8,403, the cost increases to over $20,000 once child care is taken into account.

As a result, student parents would have to work excessive hours, around 30 to 90 hours per week depending on the minimum wage in their state, in order to pay for both child care and tuition.

The affordability gap for center care in Washington, DC, was the highest (over $30,000), while in Pennsylvania it was the least expensive ($25,000). However, a student parent would only have to work 53 hours a week at the minimum wage of $16.10 per hour in Washington, D.C. to cover childcare and tuition costs, while the minimum wage $7.25 an hour in Pennsylvania would force a student parent to work. 81 hours per week.

“We found that the net price [of childcare] alone is not really a good indicator of the affordability of university education for student-parents, simply because childcare costs vary widely,” said Britanni Williams, senior policy analyst for higher education at the Education Trust. “In fact, many states that have a lower net price for their public colleges may actually have much higher child care costs.”

Interviews with survey participants, half of whom were attending college full-time, revealed that a majority of student-parents spend six to ten hours a week in class and six to ten extra hours a week. to study.

Policy recommendations

The findings of this report answer a central question: what policies cause some states to have lower accessibility gaps?

Although the report did not take into account specific policies that states might have in place, such as child care subsidies, researchers found that the main factor contributing to a wider affordability gap low was a higher minimum wage.

“When we looked at the data, we realized that if a state cut affordability, tried to make college more affordable, and cut public spending by a few hundred or a thousand dollars or did the same thing. thing with child care, it wasn’t as effective as raising the minimum wage to the amount of money a parent would earn to reduce the cost of either,” said Williams: “What we found was that the biggest mitigating factor was the amount of money the person would make for the cost.”

The researchers recommended that the federal minimum wage be raised to $20 to address the high costs found in this study.

They also recommended an increase in federal funding for Child Care Access Means Parents in School, a federal program that provides on-campus child care to low-income students, to $500 million annually. Currently, the program is receiving $55 million, which is expected to grow to $95 million in the next fiscal year, based on budget proposals from President Biden and the House of Representatives.

Another aspect to improve was data collection. Currently, colleges do not distinguish between students who are parents and those who are not, and as a result, it is difficult for campus academic and financial services to meet the unique needs of these students.

In interviews conducted by researchers for this study, student-parents said they did not feel seen on campus and that certain academic accommodations, such as fully online or hybrid courses, would help minimize their need for child care.

The researchers recommended that the federal government require all colleges that receive federal funding to collect student-parent data and report it to the Postsecondary Education Integrated Data System. This data would allow federal and state governments as well as colleges to develop solutions to make colleges and daycares more accessible and affordable for student-parents, the researchers said.