Child care grant program could expand to more

Changes to the grant program may extend to graduate and professional students.

by Kristina Busch

Graduate and professional student-parents in Minnesota could soon get additional help paying for child care. 
Under proposed state legislation, a grant program designed to help undergraduate student-parents afford child care — which can cost anywhere from about $6,000 to over $16,000 a year per child — would be expanded to cover graduate and professional students. 
The measure has been included in the House’s higher education omnibus bill. The Senate’s higher education committee has discussed the proposal.
If passed, about 300 graduate and professional students would receive funds to ease the burden of child care costs, said Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley. 
“It’s not a huge number, but it will help make a big impact,” he said. 
Kyle Kroll, president of the University’s Professional Student Government, said graduate and professional students have pushed for changes to the grant program. An expansion to the program has also been a priority for other student groups this session, like the Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition.
Kroll said members of PSG approached the University’s Student Parent Help Center about the grant program and found members of SPHC supported the inclusion of graduate and professional students. 
“Students wanted the University to do more in terms of supporting them as student-parents,” he said. 
The proposed extension comes as lawmakers have moved to address concerns about child care affordability for Minnesotans, who take on some of the highest child care costs in the nation. 
In January, House Republicans formed the Select Committee on Affordable Child Care. 
Of the 40,000 graduate students currently enrolled in the University and other programs throughout the state, 15 percent are parents, Clausen said. 
Through the state program, undergraduate students currently can receive up to $2,800 per year through the grant to pay for expenses such as daycare if the other guardian is also unable to care for the child due to work or school. 
Ginny Dodds, financial aid director of state grant programs for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, said almost 2,200 undergraduates received grants, which averaged about $2,600 per student, for the 2014 to 2015 school year.  
While the grant currently prohibits graduate and professional students, Dodds said these types of students are more apt to have children because they are older and might be married.
“It is a big expense to pay for daycare, and even though there’s county child care assistance and basic child care grant programs, they often have long waiting lists,” she said. “This is another program that those students could tap into, and hopefully it will help them complete their advanced degrees.”
Susan Warfield, SPHC program director, said child care is “make it or break it” for every type of student-parent. Even though some student-parents will recruit their family to help babysit the child, it’s not enough to cover all expenses, she said. 
“You can’t get to class or dedicate time for any studying if you can’t set your child at a safe center,” Warfield said. 
On top of paying for child care, Kroll said graduate and professional students shell out thousands more to pay for advanced schooling and to pay off their loans. 
He said PSG sent letters that featured student-parent testimonials to legislators about the importance of expanding grant eligibility. 
“[The stories] distinctly tell just how difficult it is to be a student-parent so that a senator or representative who isn’t a student-parent or never went to graduate or professional school can get into the shoes and the mind of someone who is,” Kroll said. 
In one letter, Anya Dmytrenko, a medical student and single mother, said child care costs have affected her academic progress. 
“I simply cannot afford the cost of child care, and financial aid doesn’t cover enough for me to put my daughter in full-time daycare,” she said in the letter. “Some might assume that students in graduate school have a partner/spouse helping out. That’s not my situation.”
Catrina Helseth, another single mother, will graduate with a master’s of social work next month. She needed loans to afford child care after she was no longer an undergraduate. 
“I believe offering graduate students child care assistance would significantly increase the number of caring people in my field and graduate programs in general,” she said in the letter. “It would also offer hope to those who would not otherwise dream of further education.”