4 Ways for College Student-Parents to Get Cheap Child Care

 February 27, 2020
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If you’re a parent doubling as a college undergrad or graduate student — or you’re about to become one — you’re probably not surprised to hear that that child care for college students may rival your cost of attendance.

With nearly twice the costs to worry about compared to a student with no children, you’ll want to consider these four ways to help you pay for child care while you’re in college. Hopefully one or more of these methods will allow you to devote more energy toward earning your degree.

1. Seek colleges, universities with child care resources
2. Apply for your state’s day care grants for parents
3. Seek private scholarships
4. Use student loan money for child care — as a last resort

1. Seek colleges, universities with child care resources

There’s been a steep decline in the number of child care providers in recent years, but that trend isn’t expected to continue. In April 2018, Congress tripled the spending for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program.

CCAMPIS sends federal dollars to schools to help low-income students afford child care. If you’re applying to college, you might focus on schools with low-cost child care options or with grants and scholarships to help cover them.

Select schools also offer extremely generous support. Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., has the Single Parent Scholar Program (PSP), for example, which offers on-campus housing to moms and dads doing it alone with children between 20 months and 10 years of age. In addition, the Wilson Child Care Center accepts students’ children who are between the age of 20 months and five years.

If you’re already in school, seek your financial aid office or family resources center to learn about any options there. If it’s light on aid, skip to the next step.

Act fast for affordable on-campus child care

Note that affordable on-campus child care isn’t specific to four-year schools — many community colleges also offer these services. Mesa Community College in Arizona, for example, charges its students just $4 an hour to supervise their young ones. It’s also not unheard of for child care to be no-cost at some institutions, like Wilson College, where single parents who are recipients of the SPS program are offered no-cost child care.

If your school has an on-campus care facility for students and faculty, inquire about availability as soon as possible because availability may be limited.

Services extend to graduate schools, too. Cornell University grad students, for instance, can apply for a taxable grant to cover their child care costs. Keep in mind that many schools’ offerings are tied to financial need or academic merit.

2. Apply for your state’s day care grants for parents

While CCAMPIS helps to fund schools’ affordable child care programs, the federal government’s Child Care and Development Fund subsidizes your state’s grant offerings. Contact your state’s child services agency to learn about your eligibility for help in covering child care costs.

Requirements typically revolve around your household income. Massachusetts’ Department of Early Education and Care, for example, mandates that you must earn at or below 50% of the state’s median income. As a student, though, that could be an easy threshold for you to clear.

While you’re at it, consult your state’s department of higher education. You can find your local contacts via the U.S. Department of Education. The state of Minnesota’s Postsecondary Child Care Grant Program is one example, offering up to $5,200 per academic year for each child who needs child care.

3. Seek private scholarships

As you exhaust your school and government-funded aid options for child care, consider a strategy you might have also used to cover tuition: applying for private scholarships.

The Soroptimist’s Live Your Dream Award, for example, offers women students up to $16,000 to pay for college, repay student loans and cover child care.

Aside from using scholarship search engines such as Fastweb to find opportunities, seek scholarships from child care resource and referral agencies, plus your nearby child care centers. Infant Toddler Family Day Care in Fairfax, Va., is one such option, offering scholarships to financially needy families.

Remember that many private scholarships are awarded without strings attached. You could win $5,000 to cover educational expenses, for example, and divert some of your winnings toward child care. With that in mind, apply for scholarships even if they aren’t specifically geared toward student-parents, single or otherwise.

4. Use student loan money for child care — as a last resort

In the unfortunate event that you’re unable to gather enough financial aid to pay for child care for your little ones, you might be tempted to borrow (more) student loans.

Yes, it’s possible to use student loan money for child care. You’re legally obligated to apply federal loans toward education expenses such as tuition, fees and books, as well as room and board, but your school could decide that child care should be factored into your cost of attendance.

There are fewer restrictions on private student loans, as your lender or your school will send you the balance of your loan after covering essential costs such as tuition and fees.

Of course, just because you could use loans to pay for child care doesn’t mean that you should. Unlike gift aid, which you don’t have to repay, a loan is more expensive than it might seem.

Say you use $5,000 from your loans to have your son or daughter cared for while you’re on campus. Repaying that amount tagged with, let’s say, a 7.00% interest rate over 10 years would set you back $6,967, according to our monthly payment calculator — and that’s if you repay the debt on schedule.

Investigate income-driven repayment programs

It may benefit you to look into income-driven repayment programs when you take out student loans. Loans that allow you to limit your monthly payments means freeing up some of your cash to use for child care.

There are four types of income-driven repayment programs, including Income-Based Repayment (IBR) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE), available to students from the federal government. If you qualify for one of these plans, it could very well lower loan payments to 10% of your discretionary income.

Loans for child care are an option, but it’s wise to treat them as a last resort — it’s the most expensive way to watch your kids. Be sure to seek gift aid from your school, state and private organizations before borrowing.

Maya Dollarhide contributed to this report.

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