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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

UF's administration needs to support graduate-student parents in need

You’re in your late 20s or early 30s. It’s time to get married. It’s time to have children. It’s time to build a better future for yourself and your family while contributing to society.

To achieve this, you’ve decided to pursue a graduate degree, but UF has no plans to support graduate students with children.

Childcare facilities at universities enable student parents to devote time to their academic and professional success. With the kids taken care of, parents can also earn income necessary to sustain their family.

Baby Gator nursery, UF’s on-campus childcare facility, has traditionally enrolled graduate-student parents’ children at a reduced rate. But Baby Gator is an auxiliary organization, which means they do not receive funding from UF to support their program. Due to rising operational costs and a stagnant state subsidy, Baby Gator is unable to cover the widening gap between child care costs and student-parent paid tuition. This decreased child care services available for student parents. Enrollment of graduate-student parents’ children decreased by 27 percent over the past four years.

Baby Gator currently costs $7,500 to $10,000 per year, which is outside the means of even the most affluent graduate students. In some cases, this equals a graduate assistant’s entire annual stipend, and they are likely to wait a year or more for one of the 54 high-cost spaces Baby Gator currently has available.

This approach to child care is well behind the times and puts UF at an institutional disadvantage. It negatively impacts our studies, teaching and careers, while also forcing students to put off child rearing during their healthiest and most fertile years. The lack of institutional support reflects a society where men work while women stay home. UF needs to move into the 21st century.

In contrast to UF, other top 10 public institutions provide generous support to their student parents. The University of Michigan offers a maximum child care subsidy of up to $2,630 per child each semester, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, has a tiered tuition for child care services that reduces student parents’ cost to just more than half of that for faculty and staff. If UF wants to be ranked among such peers, why doesn’t it support graduate students by offsetting the cost of child care in similar ways?

Until recently, Florida’s School Readiness Program, administered by the Florida education department’s Office of Early Learning, provided significant child care subsidies for graduate-student parents. Under this program parents were not expected to pay more than 10 percent of their income for child care. But a new policy effective Dec. 18 excludes graduate students. Between the lack of funding at Baby Gator and the exclusion of graduate students from the Early Learning Coalition, there is no longer any affordable child care for graduate students at UF.

Graduate-student parents seek to educate ourselves so we can provide better lives for our children. We don't see our low-income situation as permanent, but without help, many of us will not make it to graduation. Graduate-student parents often report that child care is critical for them to complete their studies.

Graduate Assistants United at UF is urging the administration to make child care a priority for graduate parents. The contract for UF graduate assistants states that UF representatives from Human Resources and the graduate school have an obligation to meet with GAU to discuss research on child care. This clause has been in the contract since 2014, but the Childcare Research Committee has yet to meet.

UF’s administration needs to step up and support graduate-student parents. Baby Gator needs institutional support by way of more facilities and funding. They need financial support, either directed toward student parents in the form of subsidies or the program itself. UF must seek new contractual terms to guarantee graduate-student parents a successful academic career. To become a truly preeminent institution, on par with the very top public universities nationwide, UF must provide child care subsidies for its student parents.

Rebecca Pethes is a UF counselor education graduate student. Michael Vincent is a UF doctoral candidate in musicology.

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