The University Network

New Program Helps Student Parents Pay For Child Care

Attending college has become a societal norm, and in most cases, successful careers are only possible with a degree in higher education.

Unfortunately, college costs are skyrocketing. And an average annual price tag of $25,290 for a year at a public university doesn’t make it easy — especially for those with children to support.

But a new program at the University of Central Florida (UCF) is making higher education a bit less burdensome for students with little ones.

UCF’s Creative School for Children, the university’s on-campus child care center, has instituted a tuition-assistance program that helps pay between 50 and 90 percent of the cost of child care for UCF students who are awarded Pell Grants.

The program is funded by a $3.7 million four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

UCF is one of three schools in Florida that received grants to implement similar programs.

“Child care expenses are high and it is difficult to find quality and convenient care,” said Suzette Turner, the Creative School director who landed UCF’s grant. “This program allows students to focus on school while their children are safe and being educated.”

If it weren’t for the program, graduate student Cara Veclotch would have a tough time graduating in December.

“Having two children’s tuition and my own, even with my financial aid, has meant really stretching,” Veclotch said in a statement. “We have relied heavily on family to make it by these past two years. I think having this grant will encourage students to continue because it will help avoid too much financial hardship. I only wish this program had been around two years ago, when I first started.”

If students don’t have to worry as much about child care costs, they won’t have to work as often, giving them more time to focus on classes, according to Turner.

“Parents who work less, attend classes regularly, and have greater study time are more likely to graduate,” she said in a statement.

Money from the grant will also go towards improving the child care facility. So far, new sodding, playground equipment, furniture and learning materials are all on the list to be upgraded.

Nine families are currently enrolled in the program, but more will be added when spots open up at the Creative School.

Image: Karen Norum

Brendan Chase, an aerospace engineering major, paid for his son to attend the Creative School for some time, but the financial burden was becoming overwhelming.

This new program helps Chase keep his son in a place where he is confident his son is safe and learning.

“The strain of the weekly child care tuition has been hard for us to overcome,” Chase said in a statement. “We were struggling to pay it. My course load is very strenuous, and because I had to work full time to pay for the child care expense, my grades began to decline and I fell behind.”

“After receiving aid from the Tuition Assistance Program, I have been able to work less hours and catch up in my studies. Looking back, I can honestly say that without this program, I would not have been able to pass my classes and may not have been able to continue my education,” he continued.

It would be great if every university was able to implement programs similar to this one, but, so far, it is only possible through a highly-competitive grant through the U.S. Department of Education.

All public universities are eligible to receive the grant, and after every four years, new proposals can be submitted, said Turner.

But that means Turner and UCF have to fight hard to extend the grant past four years.

To ensure all students benefiting from the grant are on track to graduate, Turner makes sure each student meets with her once a semester to provide transcripts and other academic material that show progress. If students are struggling, she helps them by pointing them towards necessary services, such as tutoring. She will observe the progress of the students and publish her findings after four years.

But Turner isn’t too worried.

From prior experience, she knows the program works. Before joining UCF’s Creative School, she worked at a similar center in Illinois that benefited from the program.

“I love being around children,” she said in a statement. “I love being able to use the latest research to help educate our Littlest Knights.”