For Parents In College, Affordable Child Care Is A Game-Changer About 1 in 5 college students in the U.S. are raising kids, and one of their biggest challenges is getting child care. A new proposal in Congress would expand the only federal program that helps.

Vital Federal Program To Help Parents In College Is 'A Drop In The Bucket'

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It can be really challenging to get a college degree while raising kids, and yet some 4 million college students in the U.S. are parents. One of the biggest struggles they face is, of course, child care. There's a federal program that helps, but it's rarely enough. Now House Democrats are trying to expand it. NPR's Elissa Nadworny reports.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Student parents actually have higher GPAs than those without kids, but they're far more likely to drop out, and a big reason is access to child care. But the number of campuses that offer child care has steadily fallen for more than a decade.

ANN REYNOLDS: Try doing a 10-page paper with a 2-year-old in the room. It's not going to happen.

NADWORNY: Ann Reynolds works at Mount Wachusett Community College supporting student parents. The campus, about two hours northwest of Boston, celebrates student parents. The school's president, he wrote a children's book called "Mommy Goes To College" based on his dissertation. It's also one of about 300 campuses that gets money from Congress to help low-income students pay for childcare either on campus, at a daycare or a preschool or off campus with an accredited provider. Reynolds runs the program here. It's called Child Care Access Means Parents in School. Most people just call it CCAMPIS.

REYNOLDS: Student parents are on our campuses, on all campuses. And to go to school and to have your children, your family taken care of, you're going to have success.

NADWORNY: And they've had success here. Students in the program are more likely to come back the following semester, and they're more likely to graduate. But here's the thing. Nationally, estimates show even with a funding increase last year, CCAMPIS serves only about 11,000 student parents, and when you calculate the number of low-income student parents that could qualify, it's 1.8 million. That means the program is serving less than 1%. At Mount Wachusett, the school only has funding for 24 students each semester. The waiting list is nearly as long.

KATHERINE CLARK: Hey. Katherine.


CLARK: Nice to see you.

TRAHAN: My name's Lori. Nice to see you.

CLARK: Nice to see you. Yeah.

NADWORNY: That's why two Democratic congresswoman from Massachusetts are here visiting Mount Wachusett. Representative Katherine Clark has long been a champion of child care policies, and Lori Trahan represents this central Massachusetts district. They're here to talk with student parents so they can fight for more money back in Washington.

KATE HOUGH: Being a student parent, you're balancing, and it's all about balance.

NADWORNY: Kate Hough shares her story with the congresswomen. She's working towards her nursing degree here. She has two kids in elementary school and two toddlers.

HOUGH: It takes a lot. Like, I don't go to bed till about 2 a.m. every night. I get back up at 6 o'clock every morning.

NADWORNY: This isn't Hough's first time in college. She tried once before when her older boys were young.

HOUGH: I've actually been to a college that didn't have no daycare, no, like, resources to help out with the schooling, and because of that, I wasn't able to finish.

NADWORNY: Here at Mt. Wachusett, there is a preschool onsite, and Hough uses CCAMPIS funds to help her pay for her 3-year-old daughter Nova to go.

NOVA HOUGH: (Unintelligible).

NADWORNY: Nova's sitting next to Hough and squirming as her mom tells their story.

HOUGH: Because of that, I'm able to study and stuff, so...

NOVA: (Unintelligible).

HOUGH: ...Most of the time...

NOVA: (Unintelligible).

HOUGH: ...I can keep my head on.

NOVA: (Unintelligible).

HOUGH: Having two young ones at home is pretty crazy.

CLARK: Well, you can't walk away from meeting them without admiration for just how they're putting this together.

NADWORNY: Congresswoman Katherine Clark is behind the increase in funding, part of the broad Democratic proposal to update the federal higher education law.

CLARK: This isn't just about quality care for kids, but this is the workforce.

NADWORNY: The law still has an uphill battle in Congress, but Clark says if you want people to get an education so businesses can recruit and retain talent, then we need to invest in childcare.

Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, Gardner, Mass.

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