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Saturday February 4th

Child care costs in U.S. are higher than in-state college tuition

<p>Children at the UNC Child Care Center play in the newly redesigned outdoor play areas. Photo courtesy of UNC Child Care Center.</p>
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Children at the UNC Child Care Center play in the newly redesigned outdoor play areas. Photo courtesy of UNC Child Care Center.

A collaborative study between and New America found child care in the United States is inadequate in terms of cost, quality and availability — which can negatively affect college students with children.

Released in September 2016, the report found although the child care needs of the American nuclear family have evolved, child care options have not. 

According to the study, 65 percent of children under the age of 6 have two working parents — an increase from the 28 percent of children under the age of 5 that had two working parents in 1970. Children are also increasingly likely to be raised in single-parent households. 

The cost of annual full-time child care exceeds that of a year of in-state college tuition and amounts to 85 percent of the monthly U.S. median cost of rent, according to the study. 

The average cost of full-time care in child care centers for children under the age of 4 nationally is $9589 — nearly $1000 more than the in-state tuition at UNC.

Although UNC offers child care resources through the Human Resources department and the Carolina Women’s Center, finding adequate child care is still a struggle for many students and faculty members. 

Mollie McGuire, a student at the UNC School of Law and the mother of a 20-month-old son, said child care was a significant factor in her educational decisions and is a huge expense for her family. McGuire deferred her admission to law school for a year to find adequate child care for her son that was affordable and conveniently located.

“We tried to use the UNC child care, but it really isn't a viable option for grad students,” she said.

After a year on the waitlist for the University Child Care Center, McGuire and her husband began looking into options outside the University and enrolled their son at Kehillah Jewish Preschool. 

She said although they are happy with the location and quality of care, cost is an issue. 

“Because of a few merit scholarships I received, we are actually paying more for my son to go to preschool than we are paying for me to go to law school,” she said. 

McGuire has a scholarship for UNC students that pays about 60 percent of her child care expenses. 

“There is no way we could have afforded it otherwise," she said. "I can't imagine trying to work full time, go to school full time and then also be a wife and mom.” 

UNC offers a free contracting service through the Child Care Services Association to help UNC employees access child care for their children. The University Child Care Center cares for 120 children of UNC students, faculty and workers of UNC Hospitals.

Jeanne Wakefield, director of the University Child Care Center, said the center has a diverse enrollment of children and teaching staff that reflects the University and hospital communities.

“Our program has a strong family- and child-centered approach that also adds to that sense of community,” she said. 

Clare Counihan, program coordinator for faculty and staff at the Carolina Women's Center, said because women are assumed to be the primary and natural caretakers for children, lack of affordable child care frequently means that women become the default caregiver if child care is unaffordable.

"Access to affordable child care means parents of all genders can pursue financial stability and independence," she said.


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