The American Association of University Women published a new report on Thursday which highlights the chief barrier that student parents at community colleges face in completing their degrees or transferring to a four-year institution: access to affordable child care. Meanwhile, the amount of federal funding devoted to federal child care grants for student parents has dropped dramatically over the last decade, even as enrollment rises.

The report  says, "A majority of parents report spending 30 hours or more a week on caregiving, and mothers report spending more time on caring for dependents than fathers do. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of mothers attending community college provide 30 or more hours of caregiving weekly, compared with 42 percent of fathers. Caregiving responsibilities reduce the time student parents spend on homework or studying."

"Additionally, student parents are more likely to be low-income compared with their non-parent peers and therefore are more likely to have to work to support their families as well as pay for college," the report continued.

On a conference call with report authors and other experts Thursday afternoon, Montgomery Community College student LaKeisha Cook talked about her struggle to afford child care. "Currently I have a grant that covers the rest of my child care costs, but the grant is running out. And I'm not alone. A lot of other mothers at Montgomery College are facing the same issue. Mother's Day is around the corner, and I hope that people think about the moms like me who improve themselves. We are a good investment. We're trying to do the right thing, but without child care, we can't get anything done," she said.

But while it's clear that affordable child care is a barrier for graduation for mothers attending community college, the amount of federal appropriations for the grant program Cook uses to pay for all but about 20 percent of her child care costs, the Campus Child care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, has dramatically declined in the last decade.

As AAUW government relations manager Anne Hedgepeth noted on the call, the CCAMPIS program has gone form receiving a $25 million appropriation in fiscal year 2001 to $16 million in appropriations last year. Meanwhile, community college enrollment has increased in that same time, with the College Board estimating that enrollment has gone from 5.7 million students enrolling in 2000 to 6.2 million in 2005 and 7.1 million in 2009.

"The pot keeps getting smaller and smaller," said Beverly Walker-Griffea, senior vice president for student services at Montgomery College.

AAUW's report highlighted one state that they thought should serve as a model for community colleges offering child care services for its students. Senior researcher and report co-author Andresse St. Rose explained to Raw Story that Arkansas' child care program, part of the state's the Career Pathways Initiative which was passed under the administration of Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) in 2005, is a state-wide program that offers child care at all 22 of Arkansas' state-funded community colleges. "That means that student parents on all the campuses have access to this service," she said.

St. Rose said Arkansas offers a dedicated staff person on each campus to aid student parents with placing their children in child care and they offer referrals and vouchers to off-campus child care if none is available on campus. The program also works in tandem with the state's welfare program, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), which means student parents can count attending community college as part of the state's welfare-to-work requirements.

The bottom line is that student parents who don't have access to child care often end up dropping out. "Many community college students are low-income or moderate-income and they can lest afford to take out student loans, have additional debt, or fall into default. We know for student mothers, having those child care grants are an incredibly important part of student aid," she said.

[Mother and daughter on computer via Shuttestock]