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BRIDGES Rural spurs free, after-school child care program for parent learners at Washington State Community College

Student mother going to study with her daughter
This story by George Lorenzo originally appeared in Workforce Monitor on Nov. 12, 2021.

Working parents attending Washington State Community College (WSCC) in Ohio will soon have the opportunity to participate in a no-cost, after-school child care program created through a grant from the Education Design Lab’s (the Lab) BRIDGES Rural Design Challenge, funded by Ascendium Education Group.

Starting in January 2022, the pilot program will award 25 child care slots for free, after-school services to be provided and supported by the local Boys and Girls Club of Washington County in Marietta, Ohio, and the state’s Department of Job and Family Services Washington County office.

This program, which could become a model for other community colleges to emulate, comes at a time when child care has become an increasingly tough financial and time-management challenge, exacerbated by the pandemic, for parents who work during the day and need new options to balance work, family, and school as they try to advance in their careers. WSCC Dean of Student Success Kathy Temple-Miller said, “Students who need child care services have more trouble paying for college. That’s the concept behind starting this program.”

Studies Reflect Parent Challenges

As part of a national Student Financial Wellness study conducted by Trellis Research during the fall 2019 semester, WSCC surveyed 1,020 of its 2,300-plus enrolled students. The survey garnered 124 responses (12.2 percent). Among a wide variety of important data points, it was noted that 38 percent of WSCC respondents reported they are responsible for providing financial support for child care. Another 63 percent reported they worry about being able to pay their monthly expenses.

The results of another study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research titled “Evaluating the Role of Campus Child Care in Student Parent Success,” published in October 2021, notes child care services at public institutions have declined by 14 percentage points since 2004. “The steepest decline − nearly 17 percentage points − has taken place at community colleges, where the largest share of student parents are enrolled.”

BRIDGES Focuses on Overcoming Barriers

The Lab’s Rural Design Challenge leads a cohort of five rural community colleges through a human-centered design process “to build their capacity to respond to their regional labor markets and to enable greater economic agility for their learners and communities.” In addition to Washington State Community College, the four other community colleges in the program are College of Eastern Idaho, Eastern Maine Community College, Finger Lakes Community College, and Zane State Community College.

Lab Education Designer Miriam Swords Kalk explains that during a thorough review process for colleges interested in the BRIDGES initiative, “WSCC made it very clear to us how important it was for them to support people in their communities, especially those who have been historically underinvested in. It has been really exciting for WSCC to build this new partnership that will immediately address a major barrier so many students face.”

From the beginning, the BRIDGES’ human-centered design process has focused on gathering perspectives from students, WSCC faculty and staff, and the community at large, uncovering key opportunities and barriers that learners face as they work toward their goals. One WSCC student summed things up, explaining that “many students are juggling many responsibilities, all while having a very low income. Just being able to afford gas to make it to school can be a hurdle. Finding reliable, affordable child care can be quite daunting.” A WSCC staff member noted that “students wear many different hats – parent, worker, spouse, friend, caregiver, etc. These roles are often in conflict with each other and can be difficult for a student to navigate.”

Advice for Other Community Colleges

Temple-Miller called upon several local child care providers, initially lobbying unsuccessfully for a possible after-school solution until she found a more-than-willing partnership with the Boys and Girls Club. Through $70,000 in total startup funds awarded through the BRIDGES grant, WSCC brought in financial support of $7,200 for the first semester and an extension of BRIDGES financial support over future semesters if the pilot is ultimately successful. Plus, the Department of Jobs and Family Services has committed to providing additional funding support over the long term, Temple-Miller said. “The Boys and Girls Club was immediately on board. The director was ecstatic. They decided to stay open during the evening hours just for us.”

The services provided by the Boy and Girls Club include free busing for six K-12 schools in the area, some of which are up to a 45-minute drive away, so parents do not have to shuttle their children before heading to their WSCC classes. The Boys and Girls Club is also providing tutoring services, enrichment activities, homework assistance, and snacks and dinner. Typically, students will board buses around 3:30 p.m. and wind up staying at the Club until around 8:30 p.m., giving parents ample time to attend classes before picking their kids up and heading home.

Temple-Miller advises community colleges that may be thinking about starting a similar program to not be afraid to ask local child care providers for evening services, even though they typically close sometime between 6 and 7 p.m. daily. “We were going to shut down the concept because we researched all of the child care facilities across the county, and we were unable to find anyone who could offer evening services,” Temple-Miller said. “Sometimes, however, you just need that spark to cause the change. So, don’t be afraid to continue reaching out to find a partner.”

“WSCC’s creative brainstorming and partnership building, all with a constant focus on how to serve students who have family responsibilities and low incomes, will make their pilot program more accessible to parent learners in their community,” added Swords Kalk. “The partnership can serve as an inspiring model for other colleges that do not have on-campus child care centers and would like to connect their parent learners with affordable, high-quality, local, child care options.”