Biden’s Universal Pre-K Plan Could Help More Parents Pursue College Degree

Build Back Better includes nearly $400 billion to expand childcare access, a potential game changer for college students raising children.

December 8, 2021 · Updated on December 9, 2021

Biden’s Universal Pre-K Plan Could Help More Parents Pursue College Degree
Higher Ed Policy
Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images

  • Build Back Better includes $380 billion to increase access to childcare and preschool.
  • More than 20% of undergraduate students are parents.
  • Of those parent students, 53% have children under the age of 6.

President Joe Biden's marquee domestic spending plan is poised to have an impact on the lives of college students beyond the $40 billion it promises for higher education and workforce development.

The Build Back Better bill, currently priced at approximately $1.75 trillion, includes funding for strictly higher education issues — an increased Pell Grant maximum, funding for minority-serving institutions, and college completion grants.

But with higher education making up just over 2% of the total spending, the proposed bill's impact would extend beyond just the classroom for many college students.

For students who are raising children, it could mean greater access to childcare.

Approximately $380 billion from the Build Back Better plan is slated to go toward increasing access to childcare and preschool. That's the second-biggest funding initiative — behind clean energy and climate investments — in Biden's spending plan.

It's worth noting that the Build Back Better bill is still in the reconciliation stage, so some of these details are subject to change. The bill is currently in the U.S. Senate.

It might not be immediately obvious how investments in childcare would affect college students, so it's important to look at the number of student parents in the higher education system. According to a 2016 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 22% of all undergraduate students are raising children.

Important notes about this demographic of students, according to an analysis of the data from the Institute for Women's Policy Research:

  • A large number of these students are single.
  • About 42% of student parents attend a community college.
  • Approximately 45% of students at private for-profit colleges are parents.
  • Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian students are more likely to be parents in college than other racial groups.

For the purposes of the Build Back Better plan's investment in early childcare — including universal pre-K 3 and pre-K 4 — the most important figure is that 53% of parents studying at a university or college have children under the age of 6.

Biden's plan addresses childcare before the age of 5. This means nearly 1 in 10 currently enrolled college students may benefit from the expansion of childcare, depending on their income.

Biden's plan addresses childcare before the age of 5. This means nearly 1 in 10 currently enrolled college students may benefit from the expansion of childcare, depending on their income.

The headliner for Biden's plan is free pre-K for all children ages 3 and 4. That will be universally free for all, no matter how much money a child's parents make or whether they are enrolled in college. The federal government would grant funds to states individually to fund universal preschool.

The Build Back Better plan goes beyond just pre-K, although there are more stipulations for childcare before the age of 3. The bill makes it clear that attending a postsecondary institution still qualifies a parent for free childcare through the state. Those involved in workforce training that falls under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act also qualify.

The Build Back Better plan would make it so a qualifying family making no more than 250% of their state's median income would not pay more than 7% of their income on childcare.

According to First Five Years Fund, an advocacy group lobbying for early learning and childcare initiatives, the average national cost of childcare for an infant is over $11,600 per year.

Both universal pre-K and childcare would be phased in over the first three years of the programs, with appropriations growing each year through 2024. The programs will be funded for at least six years, according to the most recent version of the bill.