NOV 26, 2018 3:00 PM
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Low-income undergraduate students at the University of Illinois who need assistance juggling the demands of parenthood and college will be able to get assistance through an array of programs and services offered by the Child Development Laboratory.
CDL recently received a $419,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education that restored funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program. CCAMPIS is a federal initiative that supports campus-based child care services to help Pell-grant eligible students attain and complete postsecondary education.
The U. of I. is one of five institutions in Illinois and 86 across the U.S. to receive one of the four-year CCAMPIS grants in 2018.
CDL expects to serve 15-20 undergraduate parents annually – possibly more if some participants also receive Illinois Department of Human Services child care subsidy vouchers, which would offset their child care costs at CDL, said Brent McBride, the director of CDL.
Alicia Walker, a graduate student in social workand the parent liaison for CCAMPIS, has recruited two or three student parents for the program so far, with the goal of having the program up and running within the next few weeks.
She and McBride are reaching out to registered student organizations, academic advisers and others across campus to build awareness about CCAMPIS and the support it offers undergraduate students who have children.
Walker said she comes from a family of young mothers and “knows the struggle of not being able to finish school because you have other priorities.” Both her mother and sister became parents early in life, but each went on to earn an associate degree, she said.
Walker said their struggles and achievements taught her the value of postsecondary education, motivating her to “break that cycle” of early parenthood and graduate from the U. of I. with a bachelor’s degree in education. She expects to graduate with a master’s degree in social work in the spring of 2019.
While the precise number of undergraduate students on campus with children isn’t known, the Office of Student Financial Aid reported that 183 undergraduate students with children under age 5 applied for financial assistance during Fiscal Year 2017. That figure likely underestimates the actual number of student parents on campus, McBride said. Of those student parents, 90 percent were eligible for Pell grants, according to CDL’s grant proposal.
During his 30 years on campus as a faculty member in human development and family studies and as the director of CDL, McBride said he has interacted with many undergraduates who have children. These students often don’t know other students who are parents, he said. Many of them have a significant need for social support.
“It’s very clear that these parents often feel isolated because the traditional undergraduate students in their courses don’t comprehend the difficulties of balancing work, parenting and school and trying to be successful in all three,” McBride said.
“One of the single best predictors of not completing a degree if you become a parent while you’re an undergraduate student is dropping out because you cannot meet all the demands,” he said.
To help these undergraduates, CCAMPIS will host biweekly support group meetings called Student Parents Talking Together, which Walker will lead.
After the families share a light meal, child care will be provided while Walker and the parents meet to discuss topics of interest to the participants, such as sharing information about available resources, handling the transition to college and coping with depression and anxiety.
CCAMPIS also will provide a mentoring program that will pair undergraduates who are pregnant or have children but are new to college life with more experienced peers on campus who have successfully navigated both college and parenthood.
As the program’s parent liaison, Walker will conduct needs assessments to determine if participants need help with resources such as food, clothing or child-appropriate housing.
“CCAMPIS is a way to take huge stressors off the shoulders of these undergraduate students by providing them with high-quality early care and education, and with support services that connect them with the right resources so they can focus more of their energy on their education,” McBride said.
“By investing a small amount of funding into these students, the return on the investment will be phenomenal as they complete their degrees, become societal contributors through employment and do all of the things that students do after graduation,” he said.