Austin Community College District (ACC) is taking a focused look at child care support for students over the next few months. The first of three work sessions dedicated to the topic took place before the regular November Board of Trustees meeting.

The objective of the public work sessions is to build a scaled child care solution to optimally impact student success. Each work session will be 1.5 hours and held in the Board Room at ACC Highland Campus, Building 3000.

ACC Chancellor Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart and the Cabinet joined the ACC Board of Trustees for the first work session on Monday, November 6, 2023, to look through data and understand more about where ACC currently stands when it comes to child care services for students. 

Who May Need Child Care Services

ACC Vice Chancellor of Institutional Research & Analytics Dr. Jenna Cullinane Hege presented data on students the college aims to serve with child care options. She provided both a conservative estimate and a broader estimate of the students who may need child care based on national child care statistics.

The conservative estimate includes known parenting students at ACC. There are 3,134 students who care for students, and it is estimated that 1,003, or 32%, of those students have difficulty finding child care.

The broader estimate includes inferred parenting students based on national statistics. Out of 36,000 undergraduate students at ACC, it is estimated that 25% of them, or 9,000 students, have dependent children. Out of those with dependent children, it is estimated that 75% of those, or 6,750 students, have young children and that 32% of those, or 2,160 students, have difficulty finding care.

Dr. Cullinane Hege also examined current limitations with our data collection, including:

  • ACC does not collect parental status of students.
  • Data is from the current credit student population and does not fully include Continuing Education or Adult Education students or students who may have chosen not to attend ACC due to child care constraints.

National Child Care Landscape

Dr. Garrett Groves, ACC Chief of Staff and Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives, presented on the national child care landscape and the ACC Student Needs Assessment. 

Nationally, more than a quarter of undergraduate students (4.8 million) are raising dependent children, and about half of those (2 million) are community college students. Seventy percent of those are women, with the majority being women of color living in or near poverty. About 16,000 child care centers closed nationwide during the pandemic, and about one-third of U.S. parents struggle to find child care. 

Assessing Student Needs

ACC conducted a survey in spring 2023 and hosted focus groups over the past year to help assess student needs. 738 student parents responded to the survey, 21 student parents participated in the focus groups, and 10 student parents provided written responses to focus group questions. The majority (523) of respondents had elementary school-aged children, followed by preschool-aged children, teenagers (283), toddlers (254), and, finally, infants (210). 

What we learned from the survey results is that some of the factors students say are impacted by lack of child care are:

  • 50% – Quality of schoolwork
  • 47% – Likelihood of completing degree
  • 45% – Staying in school this semester 
  • 37% – Being on time
  • 34% – Missing class
  • 31% – Missing work

Additionally, student parents said that the primary challenges related to child care options include:

  • 76% – Cost of care was too high
  • 41% – Care was not available at the time I needed it
  • 33% – Could not find anyone to care for my children
  • 30% – There was a long waitlist for the program or support
  • 20% – Care was too far away
  • 19% – I needed sick care for my child
  • 19% – Change in work schedule
  • 6% – Special needs that could not be accommodated

Child Care Needs and Preferences

Student parents were also asked about their child care needs and preferences. The data show:

  • 44% need full-day care
  • 34% need before- or after-school care 
  • 79% would prefer care near home, with the most reported ZIP codes being in Round Rock, Cedar Park, Leander, Pflugerville, and Kyle
  • The next most desired locations were on campus (46%) and near campus (37%), with the most reported campuses being Highland, Round Rock, and Eastview

ACC’s portfolio of child care services was also reviewed at the work session. ACC’s Child Lab School serves 29 children of 27 student parents and 21 children of faculty, staff, and the community. 

Additionally, in 2022-23, ACC provided 155 student parents with child care scholarships to serve 204 children. In FY22, the college budgeted $626,510 for child care scholarships and expended $408,348. In FY23, $1,307,500 was budgeted and $595,000 was expended. 

Persistence Rates

When compared to other known student parents, child care scholarship recipients were more likely to persist from fall to fall. In fall 2021, 75.5% of scholarship recipients persisted fall-to-fall versus 58.4% of known student parents, and in fall 2022, those numbers were 73.5% and 57.6%, respectively.

Next Steps

Board members asked for additional information to be shared at the next work session. This includes how much space at all campuses is going unused, where child care scholarships are being redeemed, and trade-off decisions, best practices, options, and systems to consider.

The next board work session will take place on December 11 and will focus on a framework for solutions. The final session will take place January 16 to discuss recommendations. A comprehensive recommendation is expected to go before trustees at the February 12 board meeting for a vote.