Childcare Costs, Low Wages Widen Affordability Gap for Student Parents: Report

Parents have to work an average of 52 hours per week at a minimum-wage job to afford college tuition and childcare, according to the report by the Education Trust.

Published August 22, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
Childcare Costs, Low Wages Widen Affordability Gap for Student Parents: Report
Photo by Dianne Avery Photography / Moment / Getty Images

  • A new report from the Education Trust found that student parents face affordability gaps that vary widely across states.
  • There is no state where a student parent can both work 10 hours a week at a minimum-wage job and afford tuition and childcare costs, according to the report.
  • A BestColleges survey of parents found that 64% had been impacted by inadequate childcare access in their day-to-day lives.

A new report lays out in stark detail the financial barriers faced by parents pursuing higher education.

College students raising children don’t just face rising tuition costs, the report from the Education Trust found, they also face widely varying childcare costs. And the number of hours they must work to afford that care also depends on their state minimum wage.

"Many states that look affordable based on their reported net price [of a public institution] actually have a wider affordability gap for student parents when one factors in the cost of child care," the report said.

Students who are parents need to work an average of 52 hours per week to afford both childcare and tuition costs at a four-year public college, the report found. There is no state in the country where a student parent can work 10 hours a week at a minimum-wage job and afford both childcare and tuition costs.

Childcare is an important issue for many families. A BestColleges survey of parents and guardians in the U.S. with at least one child under age 18 found that 64% had been impacted by inadequate childcare access in their day-to-day lives.

College Affordability Varies State to State

While tuition and childcare costs both continue to rise, the affordability gap balloons in states with a low minimum wage.

The report notes that the net price for low-income students, or the average amount that those students pay to attend public schools after subtracting grants and scholarships, isn’t enough to measure student parent affordability on its own. The other critical factor is the number of hours a student parent would need to work to afford tuition and childcare.

"A student parent in a state with a high published net price, high child care costs, and a high minimum wage may, in fact, need to work fewer hours than a student parent living in a state with a low minimum wage," researchers found.

The median number of hours needed to work per week to pay for tuition and home-based childcare is 52, according to the report, and the median for tuition and center-based childcare is 53 hours.

Washington is the best state for student parents trying to pay for either type of childcare and tuition, the report found. A student parent there would need to work 33 hours per week at minimum wage to afford public, four-year college tuition and center-based childcare, and 30 hours per week for home-based care.

“Pennsylvania and Georgia are the worst states for student parents trying to pay for childcare and tuition, the report found.”

Pennsylvania and Georgia are the worst states for student parents trying to pay for childcare and tuition, the report found.

A student parent in Pennsylvania would need to work 81 hours per week at minimum wage to afford center-based childcare and public, four-year college tuition. In Georgia, a student parent would need to work 90 hours per week at minimum wage to afford home-based childcare and public, four-year college tuition.

To show the affordability gap more clearly, the report measured the net price and childcare costs minus earnings from 10 hours per week at the minimum wage. That gap also varied widely by state, with a median of $18,783 for center-based care and $18,645 for home-based care.

Florida has the narrowest affordability gap for center-based childcare at $12,587. Wyoming has the narrowest home-based care affordability gap at $11,679.

New Jersey had the widest home-based childcare affordability gap at $25,501, while Washington, D.C., had the widest center-based care gap at $30,145.

Recommendations: Increase Minimum Wage, Fund Early Childhood Education

The report outlined recommendations for improving the plight of student parents.

Raising the federal minimum wage to $20 an hour would help to combat the affordability disparities that student parents face, according to the report.

Likewise, boosting funding for early childhood education, requiring all Title IV schools to collect data annually on student parents, doubling the Pell Grant, and making the monthly child tax credit permanent are other federal-level recommendations included in the report.

The report also recommends that officials increase funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, which funds childcare services for low-income parents in college, to $500 million.

Last April, a group of 41 organizations, institutions, and advocates called on high-ranking federal legislators to increase CCAMPIS funding to $500 million next fiscal year. The federal government allocated just over $51 million in 2021, according to the Department of Education.

“Raising the federal minimum wage to $20 an hour would help to combat the affordability disparities that student parents face, according to the report.”

The increase would help support childcare for approximately 6% of Pell Grant-eligible students with children ages 0-5, the advocates said in a letter to lawmakers. They estimate the increase would help CCAMPIS reach 100,000 additional students.

The Education Trust report also recommends improved state-level data collection on how many children have parents who are in higher education.

Other recommendations include expanding on-campus early childhood education programs, and increasing the number of childcare options on or near college campuses. In 2015, 49% of four-year public colleges provided on-campus services, down from 55% in 2003, according to the report.

Prioritizing the children of student parents for on-campus childcare over those of faculty and staff would also improve outcomes, the report said, as would providing student parents with priority enrollment so they can schedule classes around childcare needs.

Colleges can also tackle childcare costs for students by automatically allowing those expenses to be factored into the total cost of attendance so parents can get more financial aid, the report said.

"Campus leaders, and federal and state policymakers must do more to support student parents, who are disproportionately single, students of color, and from low-income backgrounds," the report reads. "These students are often juggling work, school, and family responsibilities, and may be struggling to find child care and meet basic needs, especially amid the on-going pandemic and current period of high inflation."