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Student Parents Want Barrier-Free Education

The now empty space where children enrolled in Seattle Central’s daycare used to play. Credit: Taylor McManus

Students at Seattle Central come from a wide variety of backgrounds but for 15% of the student body their home life includes the care of a dependent child. Besides providing an extra set of responsibilities on top of studying, raising a child incurs significant financial stress, notably the cost of childcare. Student-parents have access to several different programs to help with such costs but are conspicuously lacking access to an on-campus child care program.

Childcare nearly always represents a high level of burden for parents but King County is an especially difficult market to be a parent in. According to a 2015 report by Child Care Aware, a non-profit organization working to provide parents with child care resources, Washington is the 8th least affordable state to seek child care in.  King county childcare costs were 31% higher than Washington’s average, meaning that a family of three living at the poverty level would have to spend roughly 48% of their income on full time care for a 4-year-old. Child Care Aware does note that the city of Seattle has a child care assistance program which helps to offset the high cost of childcare.

But what about Seattle Central College? The school’s mission statement requires action to “create a barrier free learning experience.” For over 30 years Seattle Central provided support to student parents through an on-campus child care center. In 2012 the International Student program found itself in dire need of an office location after it’s old residence in the South Annex was found unfit for use during an inspection.The College hastily ended it’s child care program to free up space for the International Student offices. While this decision left the 68 parents who relied on the child care center in a lurch Seattle Central has worked to support student parents in new ways.

The college employs a Student Parent Coordinator, Vanessa Unti, who works to help parents get access to support for the cost of childcare. Unti explained that the college provides a scholarship to help with child care costs for eligible students who are at or below 300% of the poverty level, do not have a degree, maintain a 2.0 and rely on a licensed childcare provider. Like the old Child Care center, the scholarship is funded through the Student and Activities Fee.

After applying and being approved by committee, parents of an infant may receive up to $1,700 dollars per quarter.  Infant care in King County at a childcare center runs a median cost of $1,456 dollars a month, or about $3,687.50 per quarter. The scholarship would then leave a parent receiving the maximum level of assistance from the school short by $1,987.50 for a quarter’s worth of infant care. For parents of a 3 to 5 year old child Seattle Central’s maximum scholarship awards $1,200 dollars per quarter leaving parents to cover, on average, $1,497.50 for full time care at a certified child care center.

If Seattle Central made space for a childcare center for over 30 years, why can’t they now?

Using comparable funds from their Student and Activities fee North and South Seattle Colleges run in-school daycare programs. To utilize their schools’ programs student parents pay between $4.75 and $6 an hour, which amounts to $1,900 to $2,400 per quarter. While Seattle Central’s program provides, on average, lower costs than North or South are able to offer, student parent Tiffany Cavin says the convenience and trustworthiness of an on-campus daycare would be substantial benefits.

For Liz, a student parent at Seattle Central and lifelong Seattleite, on campus daycare should be a priority because of the difficulty of finding reliable providers near the college. Cavin agrees, explaining that she has had to pull her son from an in-home daycare after learning that the providers were teaching him religious lessons she did not agree with. Becca, another student parent, has a similar story in which she was forced to take a break from her education after discovering her son was being verbally abused at daycare. This experience has left Becca feeling like she doesn’t have access to safe care for her children. These and other student parents certainly do not feel the college is doing its best to remove barriers to their education. “If it’s a priority they would figure out how to make space for it,” Liz explains.

Unty stated that there are currently no plans in the works to bring a daycare back to Seattle, but there are resources available to help student parents navigate the difficult child care market.

Student parents at all the Seattle Colleges certainly feel the burden of finding and paying for childcare; though Seattle Central’s scholarship program may not be enough of the right kind of support it does help reduce the financial constraints student parents face.

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