Roughly half of the colleges in the U.S. offer some type of child care, a big relief to the nearly 5 million college students with dependent children. Having reliable and accessible child care on campus can make the difference between finishing a degree and simply accumulating debt. This guide focuses on how to ensure the child care you get is high quality and points you toward how to pay for it.
Is child care on campus a must-have for you? If so, then before you apply to colleges, you’ll need to know where you can go. To start searching, just select your state. We’ll show you which colleges near you offer on-campus child care.
While there’s no shortage of options when it comes to child care, finding the right option can often be a struggle. Parents may wonder how to find care that fits their needs, budget and schedule. In order to help tackle this issue, we did some investigating and talked to Jacqueline Corey, director of the Manchester Child Development Center at the University of San Diego, to get some perspective.
Corey recommends that parents “seek out referrals from local agencies, like the YMCA, family child care networks and government programs, like First 5 [a California initiative].”
Don’t stop with the usual suspects. Corey also suggests, “If the campus has a women's center or student-life services coordinator, ask about the possibility of getting help with finding child care. Check the job board and employment center for the possibility of finding an in-home caregiver.”
“Every family has different needs and priorities,” says Corey, “so a common checklist for reviewing programs can be misleading. Look for a program whose written philosophy compliments your family values.”
What does this mean? Corey emphasizes that parents should “visit the program while it's in session to get a feel for how the classroom is run. Watch and listen to the teachers as they interact with children. Look around at the environment both indoors and out. Observe the children at play. Does it feel comfortable and natural? Are the children engaged and busy and having fun?”
Corey encourages parents to “review policies and procedures to ensure that the hours, location and enrollment obligations will work for your family.” Even the best program can be a poor match if its hours don’t line up with your schedule or if it is located on the other side of campus.
Many child care directors have had the conversation about financial aid hundreds of times and may even expect it. Corey says, “Asking for financial support can be difficult, but most directors are happy to share any resources or ideas they might have up their sleeves to help parents access their program. Be upfront in asking about student discounts.”
To secure student discounts or other financial aid, you’ll likely need identification or even bank statements or tax returns. Make sure you have such documentation so you can easily show financial need.
According to Corey, “Waiting lists are very program-specific. In some cases, the sooner you get on the list, the better, but others are ranked according to university affiliation or other criteria. Inform yourself about the policies for the waiting lists you join so that there are no surprises when you get the call that a space is available.”
Corey says, “Respond immediately when you are informed that a space is available for you and be prepared to put down a non-refundable deposit if necessary to hold a space for your child.”
Corey suggests being honest about the likelihood of enrolling a child in a program. She explains, “Directors usually need to keep our programs full, but we can sometimes be flexible about holding a space if we know the family is going to commit.”
The benefits of finding a solid on-campus program come down to more than cost and convenience, as Corey notes. “Parents appreciate knowing that their child is close by and in good hands,” she says. “We've been known to pop in for visits during lectures or might run into you on campus during an impromptu picnic. It is wonderful to share our campus backyard with the moms and dads who trust us with their children during the school day.”
Although there are many options for child care, some student-parents may have difficulty affording it. After all, traditional financial aid packages cover tuition and living expenses, not day cares and babysitters, which is why the Federal Pell Grant weighs single parenthood heavily. Single parents typically receive more free money toward tuition than peers without children, and FAFSA4caster can help them estimate how much.
Once that hurdle is cleared, student-parents should be aware of the avenues for child care financial aid. The federal government gives money directly to the states through the Child Care and Development Fund, which is responsible for running child care assistance programs. There are general guidelines, including that money is typically reserved for low-income parents with children under 13. However, states can modify the requirements, meaning that income limits and the types of care it can be used toward vary. A list of state contacts can be found at the Office of Child Care, but many states work through local community action agencies to distribute these funds. These agencies specialize in connecting low-income citizens with social services they are eligible for.
Similarly, the Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program gives money directly to schools to maintain child care facilities that serve low-income populations. Any school on the list of awardees may either offer reduced tuition or have scholarships available, and all families can claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit regardless of income. But there’s a catch: the tax credit only applies to child care during hours spent working or looking for work. However, considering many single parents in college also work, this simple step can save up to $600 per child.
Weren’t taking notes? No worries. We’ve compiled some of the best resources – from babysitter apps to child care databases – for finding care when you need it.
This site has plenty of expert advice on developmental and behavioral milestones for babies and toddlers. Use its recommendations to get your children into a program that helps them hit those milestones.
Care.com is like Craigslist for child care, but with a lot more safeguards. Members can search for everything from preschools to bilingual babysitters.
Child Care Aware has plenty of advice. One of its best features is the Child Care Resource and Referral search tool. Users type in their zip code and are sent to a nonprofit agency that will make recommendations about nearby facilities.
Low-income students can walk into their local community action agency, see what social benefits they are eligible for, including child care subsidies, and get in-person help applying.
Head Start and Early Head Start are federal programs administered at the state and local level. Use the ECLKC to find a local Head Start and see if your child is eligible to attend for free.
Some of the money one spends on child care is returned at tax time through the Child and Dependent Care Credit. Before deciding on care, know which types are eligible for the credit.
NAEYC runs an online database of programs it accredits, covering over 7,000 facilities. It also has tips on selecting a program that best suits your family.
This government office gives financial assistance to low-income families to get child care. It has a full packet of parent resources, including safety regulations and contact details by state.
Head Start and Early Head Start are free child care facilities that also include some basic health screenings and nutrition services. Most Head Start families must be below the poverty level.
Sittercity is a website and app designed to help families find in-home care from either babysitters or nannies. The service allows free searches, but connecting to sitters requires a paid membership.
For a small fee, get into a babysitting co-op or start a new one. Sitting Around has over 700 active co-ops in the U.S.
YMCA has over 2,700 stateside locations, and child care is one of its specialties. Find a YMCA and ask about its day care, afterschool and camp programs.