Affordable child care a must for N.J.’s student-parents | Opinion
By Donald Norcross
As a young, single father working in construction, I struggled to find quality child care with flexible hours that worked with my schedule. It was hard to locate affordable, accessible child care 40 years ago — and it’s nearly impossible for many parents today.
A report from the nonprofit Child Care Aware of America found the average weekly cost of infant daycare in New Jersey is $300, about $1,200 a month for one child. Needless to say, that’s an immense burden for working families.
The same report found that child care in New Jersey costs 10 percent more than the average cost of public college tuition and fees! Those statistics are just unacceptable.
There are over 4 million college students in the United States who are raising children while attending school. Studies have shown that students who are also parents have higher grade point averages than their fellow classmates without kids – yet, they are more likely to drop out. While the number of student-parents has been on the rise, the number of community colleges and four-year institutions with campus child care has been declining. It doesn’t make sense.
We need to help our students succeed, and when the majority of student-parents are single women, the issue of access to child care on campus impacts the strength of our economy, the diversity of our work force and the stability of future generations.
In January, I hosted a roundtable at Camden County College in Gloucester Township with student-parents, child care providers and college representatives to discuss child care options at CCC’s child care facility, Kiddie Junction. CCC Early Childhood Education Professor Lisa Zappetti offered us an insight into both what many of her own students are facing as parents, and what children need during their earliest years.
“As more mothers go into the workforce, the need for quality child care has increased. Those first five years are the most important years of a child’s life,” Zappetti explained. “If they can get quality child care while their mother is working or going to school or doing both, it will have a lifelong impact. A child’s most important role models are their parents. It is important for a child to see their parent studying, going to school, working hard.”
I also shared my personal story as a single dad, and the stress that came with leaving my young son in the hands of someone who wasn’t a family member or close friend. The South Jersey parents who use the CCC facility said they’ve experienced similar concerns, but highlighted the positive impact that having accessible, quality care has had on their families, their peace of mind – and even their GPAs.
“I am thankful I can go to school stress-free without worrying about my children’s safety,” said CCC student Tiara White. “My GPA has never been so high.”
I discussed some new initiatives I’m advancing to improve the state of child care at colleges and universities. Forty percent of student-parents are working full-time jobs, which makes night or weekend classes more appealing to their often-unpredictable schedules. I’m working to make child care options more flexible in order to accommodate those who need help outside the regular 9-5 workday, by sponsoring legislation to expand grants for campus-based child care options that meet the need for evening, summer, weekend and before- and after-school services.
Also, I recently teamed up with U.S. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to introduce a measure to support free child care at community colleges, which would assist New Jersey students in fighting costly barriers to degree completion, and making sure more student-parents have the tools they need to learn and succeed.
We must level the playing field. This year, I’ll fight in Congress for the futures of our children and grandchildren. I’m focused on helping the hard-working student-parents who, much like my younger self, are struggling to find quality child care options. I’ll continue to prioritize my work to provide opportunities for all American students to succeed – and there is no better place to look for inspiration than in South Jersey.
U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, D-1st Dist., is a member of the House Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment.