UA needs more childcare options for student parents

Jason Frost

Last year, students at one of the dorms on campus joked with me that they needed a dorm dog. Instead, they got a baby. And luckily that baby has two wonderful parents who are on the cusp of graduating and who have a whole dorm full of people to support them.

But this brings a new problem to light: why does The University of Alabama not provide on-campus childcare services to enrolled students?

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, only half of this nation’s public universities offer childcare to prospective students. Even so, nearly a quarter of all undergraduate students are raising dependent children while at school. In a world where 57 percent of these student parents are low-income earners and many of them are forced to drop out early, on-campus day care could be a way not only to cater to new students but also improve retention rates with current enrollees.

Just to find out what the University offers, I called the Child Development Center and asked them a few questions. Currently, they have no on-campus day care or after-school programs for students over the age of 5 years old (though they noted most grade schools offer their own for parents). For parents with children between the ages of 2 months old and five years old, the only option for on-campus childcare is through the NAEYC Children Program. This program, however, is more of a development program than day care. To have a child enrolled, one must sign on to an extensive waiting list with an average wait time of a year to a year-and-a-half. This program is also not free, costing parents $435 a month per child. The Center also told me parents should “have a backup plan in place” because candidate selection relied on the needs of the school, not the parents. This is fine for teaching education majors how to deal with children, but not for helping out parents who want to continue their education. The only alternative was a graduate school program called Sitters for Service, but this program only offers assistance on limited days, and student parents can only qualify for up to 30 free hours of babysitting a semester, roughly equal to two weeks of classes for a full-time student. Space in this program is still limited, despite having expanded in 2015 to meet an ever-increasing demand. It costs $20 to enroll.

This lack of service is especially harmful to out-of-state students who cannot just commute to work and leave the kids at school, with someone else or at church. By ignoring the needs of student parents, the University is losing out on a huge demographic of potential students, many of whom are choosing other colleges that offer these basic services.

Raising a child is an expensive feat, but certainly not something the school could not handle. It seems likely that the money the school would spend providing said services to students for free would likely be far outweighed by the profit margins they make in tuition, class fees and book sales per student. It is worth noting that around 60 percent of freshmen were out-of-state students in 2013, according to The Crimson White, and out-of-state students bring higher tuition rates than those coming from in state. This lack of access disproportionately affects women and people of color and especially hurts single parents. Many countries consider childcare a fundamental human right. Isn’t it time for the University of Alabama to step up to the plate? 

Jason Frost is a junior majoring in journalism and history.