Child Care Access Means Parents in School Programs and Experiences

December 12, 2022

One in five undergraduate college students today is a parent, yet they are 10 times less likely to graduate. Many institutions of higher education are challenged with supporting students that need childcare to stay engaged with their education. When looking at rural institutions, there are usually one or two individuals, or a small team wearing multiple hats, tasked with supporting students through the institution’s student services department. Following our recent webinar on Campus Based Childcare, we were joined by seven rural community colleges during our Peer Learning Network Discussion to learn about their experiences as recipients of the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) grant. The CCAMPIS program supports the participation of low-income parents in post-secondary education through the provision of campus-based childcare services. Funds are used to support or establish campus-based childcare programs primarily serving the needs of low-income students enrolled in institutions of higher education. Grants may be used for before- and after-school services. In addition, grants may be used to serve the childcare needs of the community served by the institution.

The institutions that joined us for our Peer Learning Network Discussion were Central Arizona College from Coolidge, Arizona; Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, Washington; Highland Community College located in Freeport, Illinois; Lake Tahoe Community College from South Lake Tahoe, California; Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wisconsin; Mount Wachusett Community College from Gardner, Massachusetts; and Wor-Wic Community College in Salisbury, Maryland. In this article, we provide an overview of some of the overall lessons learned and suggestions from these institutions on how the CCAMPIS application can be improved. Additionally, we feature insights from each of these rural institutions and their experiences as CCAMPIS recipients.

Lessons Learned and Suggestions to Improve the CCAMPIS Application Process

Some key lessons learned from the CCAMPIS grant recipients are to network with other CCAMPIS friends, be able to pivot when needed to adapt to changing circumstances, and model your campus-based childcare program off other successful programs. The opportunity to gain experience from others that are or were previous CCAMPIS recipients allow institutions to share knowledge and resources on how to complete the CCAMPIS application and set up their campus-based childcare programs. A key lesson learned from the COVID-19 pandemic for CCAMPIS recipients is to be ready to pivot and adapt to an ever-changing environment. The COVID-19 pandemic made many institutions and childcare centers shift quickly given the circumstances. Therefore, as a CCAMPIS grant recipient, ensure that you are staying in touch with your grant officer when or if changes need to occur. Also, the rural institutions attending our PLN discussion stated that when an institution is creating their campus-based childcare that they should not try to “reinvent the wheel.” There are plenty of successful childcare and campus-based childcare programs that can be modeled. This can help support the development of the institution’s sliding fee scale to support students with the highest need, but limited means.

There are many challenges that rural community colleges face regarding childcare. The institutions during this PLN discussion indicated that one of the initial challenges within the application process was gathering data on student parents at their institutions. Many of these institutions did not have the data readily available to understand the scope of their student population. While each institution echoed that they were able to learn more about their students throughout this process, having this data and information on which students are enrolled is essential to providing the necessary wrap around services needed for students. Also, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many childcare centers closed and institutions that were CCAMPIS grant recipients were impacted and had to reevaluate their sliding fee scales for campus-based childcare. Some of the rural institutions indicated that they encountered challenges in spending the CCAMPIS grant funds throughout the pandemic due to having to close and shifting their operations.

The CCAMPIS application is a huge application for the limited funding made available, especially for rural community colleges that have limited staff. For numerous rural community colleges, the CCAMPIS application process feels like keeping your head above water due to the limited staff and length of the application. One rural community college estimated that 240 administrative hours were dedicated to completing the CCAMPIS application. For rural institutions that do not have dedicated staff grant writers this is a heavy burden. To improve the CCAMPIS application, recognizing the challenges faced by rural communities related to staffing and funding will allow for necessary improvements. For rural communities, a community college’s campus-based childcare center is often the only available childcare in the area. Therefore, the services that they provide not only support the institution and students enrolled, but the community overall.

To help improve CCAMPIS and childcare, these institutions indicated the need to create systematic change for quality childcare, such as the accreditation process and the current low wages that are not family sustaining within the childcare and early childhood education field. Providing additional support for the accreditation process can ensure that childcare centers are meeting the necessary standards for quality childcare. Also, continuing to bring awareness around the community service that is childcare and the professionals that work within childcare. Many of these individuals are from low-income, underrepresented, first-generation backgrounds.

An additional recommendation to improve CCAMPIS is to potentially expand the use of funds outside of specifically accredited programs, such as before and after school programs. More transparency on the CCAMPIS grant will also allow potential grant awardees to have a better understanding of CCAMPIS. Many of the speakers echoed the resourcefulness of watching the Campus Based Childcare webinar recording which we held in November 2022. The webinar helps answer many questions about CCAMPIS and even individuals that are in the midst of their CCAMPIS funding stated that they were able to learn more about the program.

Furthermore, many childcare centers across the U.S. lost a significant portion of their staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the thought of obtaining accreditation is far from their minds. Many childcare centers and campus-based childcare centers are diligently working to keep their doors open and provide these essential services to their communities. Overall, childcare and early childhood education are pivotal and are wrap around services that allow institutions to recruit and retain student parents so that they are able to obtain the necessary certification or degree to set them and their families up in family sustaining waged jobs.

Central Arizona College

Central Arizona College, located in Coolidge, Arizona, has been serving students since 1967. The county that Central Arizona College serves is one for the more economically deprived counties in Arizona. The state ranks among the most poverty ridden in the U.S., around 45th in the overall well-being of children, and 46th in providing supportive families and communities that nurture children. These were part of the reasons why Central Arizona College decided to apply for CCAMPIS. The average age for their students was around 27 and 64% of students were eligible for Pell Grants. Currently, institutions are eligible to write currently for up to 3% of program funding in comparison to 1% previously. This is in part by the additional funding that was provided to education programs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of September 30, 2022, Central Arizona College has completed their final year of four-year funding of the CCAMPIS grant. Central Arizona College had two priorities for the CCAMPIS grant: (1) provide tuition subsidies for on campus childcare; and (2) provide family engagement opportunities that would assist parents in helping them with their families. Since accreditation is a requirement for the CCAMPIS grant, Central Arizona works with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). There are two on campus childcare centers at two out of five of the campuses. The providers for the campus-based childcare are under contract. Unfortunately, since the COVID-19 pandemic, Central Arizona is down to only one childcare center which in on the main campus.

Overall, the CCAMPIS grant allowed the institution to discover who were their students and what were their needs. This data allowed Central Arizona College to inform their practices and services and improve the quality and strategies in supporting their students. Additionally, it helped focus the institution in maintaining quality markers for early childhood and childcare in the state. The 1% funding was challenging in how the institution could spend the funds and they had to re-strategize how they would spend the money. When the COVID-19 pandemic started the institution ended up having to pay for staff salaries, which was not initially part of the plan. They were able to hire a coordinator that supported the accreditation, but because this was a contracted provider there were some barriers. The coordinator was not a part of the campus so the needs of the students were not understood the way an on-campus staff member would which made it difficult to implement some of the strategies that they were hoping to put forth. The provider that is leveraged is a nonprofit organization and the grant funding for CCAMPIS is not enough to support the holistic approach that you need to be successful in implementing all the things that will best serve students and families and maintaining quality.

Grays Harbor College

Grays Harbor College, located in Aberdeen, Washington, is in a district that is 97% rural. An outside vendor operates the institution’s campus-based childcare, where they subsidize childcare for students at the center. Grays Harbor College leverages their in-house grant writer to support grant applications. One challenge that the institution faced when receiving the grant was prioritizing a sliding fee scale and the waiting lists that the childcare vendors had. The sliding fee scale at the college would have individuals pay some portion of the childcare if they did not qualify for the program. However, due to the need for childcare and the amount of individuals that applied for funding, the institution did not have to implement the sliding fee scale.

Additionally, in preparing for the grant application submission there was a focus on finding data on how to demonstrate the need for childcare. What the institution found was there was a greater need for childcare around the proximity of the institution. Overall, receiving a CCAMPIS grant is wonderful and can really help the institution, however, losing out on a potential CCAMPIS opportunity in the following grant cycle can be very disappointing. A lesson learned from Grays Harbor College is to be explicit in responding to every prompt within the CCAMPIS grant application.

Highland Community College

Highland Community College, located in the northwest corner of Illinois, is in a rural district which spans four counties. Over the last decade, the region’s population has declined. However, as a small institution, Highland has the flexibility to try new approaches to working through various challenges. Like other rural community colleges, access childcare is a regional economic challenge. Highland has a longstanding partnership with the YMCA which is located on their campus and the partnership is in year 47 of a 50-year partnership agreement. Within the last 20 years, Highland has developed a childcare facility which is located next to the shared YMCA and academic building. This facility is fully operated by the YMCA and houses the institution’s early childhood education program. The facility includes observation rooms which allow ECE students to observe and work directly within the facility.

Although Highland Community College does not have a dedicated grant writer on campus, they were able to learn about the CCAMPIS opportunity from Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth during a roundtable and shortly after gathered the data needed to submit their application. Highland Community College received their CCAMPIS grant not long before the COVID-19 pandemic began, which had a large impact on the institution. Highland was just beginning to spread awareness of their campus based childcare program. Through the partnership with the YMCA hours were extended, and it was found that the evening nursing students were taking advantage of the campus based childcare program. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on campus has resulted in the institution’s daycare being unable to fully hire and scale up their employment again. This limits the number of students that can be served. However, Highland Community College is hopeful and working diligently in rebuilding their enrollment to help attract students that either stopped out or did not continue with enrollment during the pandemic.

Lake Tahoe Community College

Lake Tahoe Community College (LTCC), located in South Lake Tahoe, California, provides campus-based childcare through their Child Development Center (CDC). The LTCC CDC serves a maximum of 46 children – six infants, 10 toddlers, and 30 preschoolers. The childcare for LTCC students and low-income families is offered at low to no cost while offering full and half-day options, which makes it more flexible for families. Additionally, the LTCC CDC provides hands-on employment experience for students pursuing Early Childhood Education and flexible on-campus jobs for any student interested in working with children. While the LTCC CDC is more expensive than other providers in the area, students pay less for infant and toddler care, and have access to those spots. The LTCC CDC established a sliding fee scale where community members are charged the most, then the LTCC employees, and then students which is the lowest fee, and it has not risen since LTCC has been a CCAMPIS recipient. Additionally, LTCC is a recipient of two California state grants which allow the institution to support their low-income students as well, resulting in student parents paying low or no fees at the center.

In preparation to submit their CCAMPIS application LTCC hired a grant writer and interviewed the LTCC CDC staff, college leadership, and student services personnel to gain a better understanding on where their institution’s services stood. Following these conversations, LTCC developed a plan to implement evening childcare to increase hours and provide a new option for student parents who potentially worked unique shifts in various service industries.

Throughout the CCAMPIS application and implementation process LTCC learned that plans do not always work out. For example, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic LTCC was planning to offer evening campus-based childcare, but when everything shut down these plans never took off. Therefore, midway through their grant they reached out to their grant officer to shift this goal to allocate more funds towards the daytime teaching staff where there is a higher need and allows them to serve additional students that were on the waitlist. LTCC recommends that individuals should adjust as needed and be willing to identify how you can best serve students, even if it is different from what you thought. Additionally, utilizing funds to staff when students need it and recalibrating student fees for CCAMPIS eligible students can ensure successful implementation.

Lakeshore Technical College

Lakeshore Technical College is located along the coast of Lake Michigan in Cleveland, Wisconsin serving four counties. Lakeshore Technical College serves about 9,000 students (2,500 degree seeking), where 85% are part-time, and many students do not complete the FAFSA which presented a challenge for the institution. When Lakeshore Technical College applied for CCAMPIS they were only able to apply for the $30,000 grant when it was 1% of an institution’s Pell Grant recipients. They have found that they have far more need than what the CCAMPIS grant covers and there are more students that need support. Additionally, about 40% of the student body are student parents and students tend to be low-income.

The campus-based childcare that Lakeshore Technical College provides is through their on campus childcare center serving ages 2-12 years old, but primarily serves as a preschool. The childcare center accepts full time, part time and drop ins if space is available. Also, the center is only open in the day and is not available in the summer. Through the CCAMPIS grant application and implementation the institution began to understand their student population even more. When applying for the CCAMPIS grant, Lakeshore Technical College was able to leverage their network to receive grant writing guidance from other CCAMPIS recipients at other institutions. A lesson learned was requiring a semester of college completion to be eligible for CCAMPIS, and even the nominal fee for childcare, was unaffordable to individuals and ultimately became a barrier to college entry through completion. Therefore, they shifted to ensure that individuals with a zero Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) pay nothing and require students to have only one month of academic progress.

Mount Wachusett Community College

Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC), located in Gardner, Massachusetts, enrolls approximately 4,000 students and has been a CCAMPIS recipient for 16 years, which is four different grant cycles. MWCC serves about 29 towns and have recently been seeing more students coming from Boston and the Worcester area to enroll in the institution’s selective health and nursing programs. MWCC’s campus-based childcare is provided through the on campus childcare center and facilitated by an outside organization. The childcare center has two preschool classrooms and serves 39 children of preschool age of 2.9 to five years old.

MWCC has a grant development professional who led and facilitated the team through a 10-month grant development writing process for its CCAMPIS grant. The student services team at MWCC supports the CCAMPIS implementation, as the institution knows that they have to look after both the student parent and the child. From the implementation of the CCAMPIS grant, the institution has worked with both the on-campus pre-school in the Early Childhood Education Garrison Center, and off-campus providers, including before and after school programs. Additionally, like other rural institutions MWCC has been able to learn more about their student population through CCAMPIS. MWCC leveraged the Family Friendly Campus Toolkit, which gave them more insights about their student parents and their needs. Through this toolkit and survey, MWCC learned that student parents wanted a place on campus that they could gather with other student parents, which led to MWCC creating their Family Resource Center and recently launching their Child Watch Program. Through this program, federal work study students that are early childhood education majors are able to staff the program. One of the lessons learned is to make sure that an institution is spending the funds in a way that ensures students are enrolling, persisting, and graduating.

Wor-Wic Community College

Wor-Wic Community College, located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in Salisbury, Maryland serves three rural counties and enrolls 3,662 credit student and 2,983 non-credit students. Wor-Wic Community College student population consists of 83% part-time students and has the highest percentage of Pell Grant recipient students of the 16 community colleges in the state of Maryland. Wor-Wic Community College’s Child Development Center opened in 2006 is a Maryland EXCELS Level 5 childcare facility, which is the highest level in Maryland. The center serves children ages 2-5 years old and can support up to 79 children. Additionally, the center provides pre-kindergarten for ages 3 and 4, and a summer program known as Camp Jordan for ages 5-12. Wor-Wic Community College also leverages the Child Development Center for their early childcare and education programs and allows students to gain experience through clinical rotations.

Wor-Wic Community College has been a CCAMPIS grant recipient for two grant cycles. A focus within the CCAMPIS grant application and implementation was to view this grant not only as one to support childcare on campus, but to help retain students and help them continue their education through graduation. The design of Wor-Wic Community College’s CCAMPIS program includes a part-time CCAMPIS Advisor, costs to pursue national accreditation, workshop materials, travel, and parent packs. Due to the initial funding which was based on 1% of Pell funds, the campus-based childcare program was small and did not serve many students. As a result, there were challenges in finding an employee that was willing to work 12 hours per week to help staff the campus-based childcare. An additional challenge that Wor-Wic Community College faced is the process for obtaining national accreditation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While the institution’s Child Development Center has the advantage of being located on campus and has the support to understand the accreditation process, many local providers of childcare in the area do not have this capacity nor understanding of the accreditation process. 

Sean Robins is the Policy Associate at the Association of Community College Trustees leading the Strengthening Rural Community Colleges Initiative to convene rural community college leaders while providing technical support, assistance, and resources on federal policy and advocacy. This initiative builds on ACCT’s prior work through the Strengthening Rural Community Colleges report that engaged rural community college presidents and trustees to gather information about the challenges faced by these institutions.

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