With declining rates of childcare availability around the country post-pandemic, non-traditional students, including those with child dependents, may have extra needs on campus.
In fall 2021, 500,000 students were a part of the nationwide enrollment drop in undergraduate programs. With this number in mind, the University of Iowa must place a priority on keeping those who have been able to stay enrolled successful.
One especially vulnerable group to not completing their college degrees are non-traditional students. This group maintained a two-thirds dropout rate 11 years ago.
Statuses and identities that an academic institution may use to label a student as non-traditional can include their age if they are 24 or older, tax filing status if they have child dependents, employment status as a full-time employee, and even life choice factors like choosing to delay enrollment, veteran status or active duty service while in school, and more.
In 2013, 25 percent of all college students, or around 4.8 million undergraduates, were raising children. The average cost per child in a middle-class family was $12,980. This number falls only a few thousand higher than the cost of tuition to attend UI in the 2022-2023 academic year.
Tuition for all UI resident undergraduate students this upcoming fall semester will be $9,942.
The UI Office of Student Care and Assistance does provide links to resources for those needing child care on campus. There is a range of child care facilities around UI campus and a subsidy program for those in need of child care funding. However, funding is not guaranteed for all student parents and is provided after child care charges are already accrued.
Outside of the nearly $13,000 annual cost per child needed to provide basic necessities, child care in Iowa comes with a steep annual cost of $10,379.
High costs of tuition, child care, and living expenses all while the state minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour, it is not surprising that 70 percent of students with children live in or near to poverty conditions.
With “primarily in-person instruction” listed as a campus life goal for the UI in the 2021-2022 academic year, focus on removing zoom and other distance options causes complications for students with non-traditional lifestyles.
It’s important to recognize that while Zoom options may help accessibility for some, it’s not a perfect solution. Fifty-two percent of parents in 2021 stated that having low access to child care during the pandemic and having children at home created higher levels of professional and personal stress.
To combat barriers to attending degree-seeking programs, many universities have offered on campus child care centers or grants to help pay for the extra costs that children present to students who are also parents.
In 2003, 55 percent of four-year public institutions offered child care programs to students. In 2015, that percent had dropped to 49 percent.
Data from 2015 did not specify whether or not students at these universities had to pay for child care out of pocket or if it was provided free.
Accessibility to care providers is as much of a barrier to professional obligations (such as employment and academics) for parents as the financial burden of current child care.
Federal funds are available to create child care centers on campuses for student needs and to alleviate costs for students with dependents. Schools in the US with federally funded child care centers include the University of New Mexico, St. Cloud State University, and University of California Berkeley.
While students with child dependents have familial needs that could be better supported through reliable, accessible financial help from UI, this is not to say that individual UI professors aren’t doing what they can to make students’ lives easier.
“I always encourage my students to bring their children to lecture if lack of child care or other extenuating circumstances are preventing them from attending,” Michaela Ruppert, professor of criminology, stated on the first day of class this spring semester. Having worked with Ruppert in previous semesters, this is an offer she extends in all her courses.
While UI and its staff continue to work hard on maintaining community support and positive conditions for students with dependents, ensuring equity in the form of financial support for all student parents to those who may be of extra need would be a good next step.
Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.
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