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The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Child care access grant vital for student parent mental health on campus, advocates say

Ilse+Arciniega+and+her+daughter%2C+Esli%2C+sit+together+in+a+pumpkin+patch+in+October+of+2023.+The+family+has+made+it+a+tradition+to+go+to+a+pumpkin+patch+every+year+and+had+to+go+on+a+day+where+Esli+had+a+day+off+of+school.+%0APhoto+provided+by+Ilse+Arciniega.
Ilse Arciniega and her daughter, Esli, sit together in a pumpkin patch in October of 2023. The family has made it a tradition to go to a pumpkin patch every year and had to go on a day where Esli had a day off of school. Photo provided by Ilse Arciniega.

When junior Savanna Williams first stepped foot on Northern Illinois University’s campus, her stomach was knotted with nerves. Leaving her infant daughter with relatives she didn’t fully trust and worrying about her ability to support them both, Williams struggled to concentrate on her studies.

However, her stress eased upon learning that she qualified for child care assistance at NIU, funded by a recent federal program.

 “I was isolated as a new parent,” said Williams, who noted that the support wasn’t just financial. “They made sure I had access to housing. They made sure I had access to transportation and food – and to mental health services.’

It’s the support many parent college students dream of – a service that can make pursuing a degree possible. The added pressures on student parents can harm mental health, academic performance and overall life. 

Unlike Chicago area universities such as Northwestern, University of Illinois at Chicago and Loyola, DePaul does not have on-campus child care centers, affiliated child care or child care subsidies for staff and students. Columbia College also does not have a child care center.

In fact, at Columbia, employees and students can only bring their children to work or class in the case of an emergency or with prior approval. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Columbia banned children on campus. Faculty and students protested, and the college formed a working group to review the decision. It was ultimately overturned and a new, less restrictive policy was put in place. 

As of 2023, only 38% of public institutions and a mere 7% of nonprofit institutions reported offering on-campus child care services.

The federal program funded by the U.S. Department of Education is called CCAMPIS, which stands for Child Care Means Parents in School. It provides financial support to cover daycare and after-school program expenses.

In addition to providing financial assistance to students, CCAMPIS allocates funds to universities like NIU to support student parents’ overall well-being. This includes covering the cost of family and program coordinators who meet with CCAMPIS students to ensure they’re on track academically and have access to resources such as food, transportation, medical services and mental health referrals.

Kristin Schulz, who oversees the child care services at Northern Illinois, said that the grant facilitated parent engagement at NIU through monthly events such as parent cafés, providing opportunities for student parents to interact and connect. 

 “It really is supportive,” Williams said, who’s also found community with other parents in the program. “We’re also learning from each other, we’re also improving, we’re addressing anything that we might be struggling with … and we’re really supporting each other.” 

At DePaul University, over 60 miles east of DeKalb, a contrasting narrative unfolds with graduate student and parent Ilse Arciniega feeling abandoned as the university resumed in-person learning post-Covid-19.

As a mother of a then 2-year-old, Arciniega said attending classes from home while simultaneously taking care of her daughter made her feel like she finally had enough time in the day to balance being a student parent.

 “I can honestly say that if DePaul had not shifted to a fully online platform, I would not have made it that year,” Arciniega said.

But four years later, she said she feels forgotten on campus as she juggles the demands of being a full-time student, an employee and a mother.

With no on-campus child care and just two scholarships for student parents, which are currently not visible on the university’s scholarship portal,  Arciniega described every day as a mental and physical struggle to balance her grades, finances and caring for her daughter.

“Over the past couple of years, my sleep deprivation has been intense and my anxiety has been really bad,” Arciniega said. “I feel like I’m not being a mom the way I want to be.”

As the president of Mothers of Color Handling Academia, she remains steadfast in advocating for resources and support for fellow student-parents on and off campus.

Recently, Arciniega and Ariel Sylvester, a project mentor in DePaul’s College of Education, are also working to get a CCAMPIS grant to bring child care to DePaul for low-income parents and their children.

Students like Arciniega, who cannot afford Chicago’s average child care costs that range from $1,000 to $2,500 a month, do their best to organize their schedules around whatever child care they can find. 

To qualify for the CCAMPIS grant, universities must adhere to specific federal regulations, including meeting all Title IV requirements and having awarded at least $250,000 in Pell Grants to students the preceding year if CCAMPIS funding exceeds $20 million, qualifications Sylvester said DePaul meets.

Sylvester serves as DePaul’s Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity project mentor, where she aims to address the shortage of qualified early childhood educators. However, having been raised by a single mother in the North Lawndale area, advocating for resources and the visibility of student-parents remains one of her top priorities.

She said the university’s failure to recognize student-parents and their unique challenges in obtaining their degree negatively impacts their mental health.

 “A lot of student parents feel isolated on campus because there’s not a huge support system for student parents,” Sylvester said. “It’s a lot of feeling like they’re unwanted on campus.” 

College campuses’ insufficient mental health resources have long been a topic of discussion, according to the American Psychological Association. Yet, students who are also parents, such as Arciniega, say they feel overlooked when it comes to their mental health needs both on campus and in the classroom.

Shortly after the birth of her daughter during her sophomore year, Arciniega recalls emailing one of her professors to inform them of her status as a parent, emphasizing the unpredictability of parenthood and the potential need for extra support in completing her assignments.

Years later, Arciniega still feels the sting of frustration from his response, where he stated that his class was fast-paced and not suitable for her circumstances.

Esli Arciniega plays with her food while sitting at Eiffel Waffle in Lincoln Park in June of 2022. Esli loves to go to campus during the Spring Quarter.
Photo provided by Ilse Arciniega

“I wasn’t asking for anything,” she said. “I was just letting him know.”  

Only 20% of the total undergraduate population across the country are student-parents, according to a survey by The Aspen Institute. However, they are more susceptible to mental health issues compared to non-parenting students.

Of the more than 45,000 surveyed student parents, significant percentages reported ongoing stress (43%), feeling overwhelmed (40%), struggling with emotional regulation (29%), experiencing depression (28%), and feeling socially isolated (28%). More than a third (38%) said they had considered dropping out of school within the previous 30 days, compared with 25% of non-parenting students. 

Other than MOCHA, Sylvester sees a shortage of support systems for student parents at DePaul. Although the university mentions two private foundations providing external scholarships for students with children on its website, Sylvester emphasized the need for more resources to welcome and retain more student parents. 

The university also doesn’t track the number of student parents when collecting its own census data.

“We don’t even know how many student parents are on campus. So we don’t know how to accommodate …  them,” Sylvester said.

Federal funding from CCAMPIS could help change that. According to a 2019 Government Accountability Office report, CCAMPIS helped over 3,300 student-parents pay for child care.

If DePaul could get funding for child care, even for night classes, “I feel like we’re gonna get a huge influx of students,” Sylvester said. 

DePaul sophomore Nicolette Bautista, who has only had brief interactions with MOCHA, described her experience as a student parent on campus as isolating. The lack of child care has further compounded that feeling. 

“I don’t know anybody who has a child,” Bautista said. “I just wish there was more of a community for other people in my shoes.”

Bautista, who works the night shift at an Amazon warehouse, emphasized how the absence of child care services at DePaul heightens her stress, forcing her to prioritize remote and shorter classes and preventing her attendance at career fairs to establish professional connections.

“I feel like I’m getting the school experience while I’m getting my grades, but not really the sense of belonging,” Bautista said.

Though no one knows if or when DePaul might get federal funding for child care, Arciniega said there are other things the university can do to support student parents in the meantime.

That includes supporting mental health and creating a greater sense of belonging.

“These aren’t initiatives student parents should be asking for. These are initiatives a department at DePaul should be handling,” Arciniega said. “I’ve thought about this countless times, but it’s like, who do I take that to?

“And who’s gonna listen?” 

This story was cross-published in The Columbia Chronicle

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