Removing Barriers for Student-Parents

By Sarah Asp Olson

LaGuardia Community College’s Early Childhood Learning Center offers student-parents more than just child care.

According to recent data from the Education Advisory Board, 33 percent of community college students today care for dependents at least one hour a week.

“And we know it’s much more than [one hour],” says Michael Baston, vice president of student affairs at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, New York. “That’s one of the odds community college students have against them. If they don’t have somebody to take care of their kids, they’re not going to be successful.”

According to Baston, 84 percent of LaGuardia’s student-parents — who account for about 25 percent of the total student body — said it would be difficult for them to attend college without on-campus child care.

LaGuardia has a long history of helping its students with child care. The college’s Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC) opened as a preschool in 1978. In the fall of 2015, the center, which has expanded its reach to include infant, after-school and pre-K programs, served 190 students, 90 percent of whom were children of LaGuardia students.

Over the years, the center has become more than just a safe place for students to drop off their kids while they study or attend class. It now operates as a central hub of information, services and resources for parents.

“Student-support-service investments are the kinds of investments that have some of the greatest potential to move students to completion,” Baston says. “[The ECLC] is not just day care for your kid; it’s support for you, so you can finish.”

Here are four ways LaGuardia is meeting the needs of its student-parents through the ECLC:

  • Offers student support services at the child-care center. Baston has observed that simply making students aware of programs or resources is often not enough. “It has to be awareness and assistance,” he says. “We also found that if you don’t integrate these awareness opportunities in inescapable practices or processes they have to encounter, students will largely go on not knowing resources exist.” For student-parents, that means turning the ECLC into a central hub for information and assistance, including offering parent support groups, consultations with health and wellness professionals and even on-site tax assistance.
  • Offers child care into the evening hours. The ECLC is open until 10 p.m. to accommodate evening classes and study schedules. The center also provides after-school care for student-parents with older children.
  •  Keeps care affordable. The ECLC is funded through a combination of student tuition and a subsidy from the state, which helps keep it affordable. LaGuardia also partners with Single Stop to help student-parents apply for child-care grants to subsidize child-care fees.
  • Offers services children need to succeed. In cooperation with TheraCare, the ECLC provides early intervention services, such as speech, occupational, physical and behavioral-modification therapy. “We prepare these students just like we prepare our college students,” Baston says. “We see them as our future population.”

Compared to the general student population, LaGuardia student-parents are more likely to re-enroll after their first semester. Baston believes part of the reason is that the center serves as a hub for the student-success services needed.

“They are already invested in their child,” he says, “and we are able to couple the investment they have in their child and the investment they have in themselves.”

 

Sarah Asp Olson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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