The Columbia University Family Support Network presented a resolution to the General Studies Student Council’s policy committee Monday night to expand the child care resources available to undergraduate student parents.
The resolution, which will be brought in front of GSSC at Tuesday’s meeting, aims to provide General Studies students with children 100 hours of backup child care and a $1,000 child care subsidy for children under the age of 5 and not yet in kindergarten—the same resources provided at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
After examining data from a survey the group sent to students in GS and GSAS students, CUFSN expanded its mission to include advocating for University-wide policy change to help students and families with access to child care.
CUFSN Chief of Policy Amber Erwin, GS ’15, said that the survey revealed 40 percent of the GS students paying for child care reported paying over $2,500 per month for it. Nearly 92 percent said they struggled to afford this cost, “which is very distressing as far as academics and personal life goes.”
“When I joined CUFSN that was when I realized that GS was a very similar demographic to the graduate school in terms of the mature students age group,” CUFSN Vice President of Policy Francine Kershaw, GSAS ’15, said . “Many of them have families, but even beyond that it seems that many of the schools have students with families who need this support.”
“I think now we’re at a stage where we’ve identified that this community exists at Columbia,” Kershaw said. “It is a significant proportion of the population not only within the graduate school.”
In the survey, 64 percent of those who reported having children also said that they missed 3 or more days a semester due to lack of child care, and 76 percent said that they either had to reschedule an exam or request an extension on an assignment for the same reason.
Erwin said that this statistic was especially problematic given the attendance requirements of Core classes.
“As an undergrad this is a problem with Core classes typically because there’s usually a two absence limit, and that’s been an issue for a lot of people,” she said.
A majority of students who responded to the survey referenced an inadequate amount of child care resources available to undergraduate students, which had a negative impact on their ability to schedule group meetings or pay attention in class.
The difficulty of balancing school work and family responsibility can also hurt these students’ grades, the survey found.
“The type of diversity they’re bringing, the gift that they bring is not being supported in our policies right now. I think there is an immediate ethical need to address this,” said Katharine Celentano, GS ’17 and CUFSN student affairs representative.
“I don’t have children, but this is still something I care strongly about,” Celentano said. “I care about the different perspectives they bring to coursework.”
“I think there’s also the issue of retention of the talent of these students who are parents because we’ve witnessed students who’ve decided not to accept an offer of admission coming into the School of General Studies because they realized they couldn’t afford it with the lack of child care options available to them,” Erwin said.
The group also found that women were disproportionately affected by the lack of resources for child care. According to Kershaw, providing more resources on campus could prevent attrition of female students at the graduate level.
CUFSN plans to continue to host events, including a weekly workshop facilitated by Columbia’s Counseling and Psychological Services for students with families, increase the number of resources available for students with families, and talk to administration to advocate for policy change. The CUFSN currently hosts events like Easter Egg hunts and pumpkin decorating that bring students with families together.
“There’s a demonstrated need for folks to connect on the emotional constellation around these issues,” Celentano said.
Kershaw said that administrators had reacted positively to the proposed changes. In addition to reaching out to undergraduate student councils for support, CUFSN intends to take a leadership role in advocating for policy change and looks forward to expanding further as a group recognized by the Student Governing Board.
“We do need to do more work into reaching out to schools and departments that are not currently well represented in our group,” she said.
However, promoting this resolution is a major focus for CUFSN this year, as it will help encourage the discussions the CUFSN wishes to facilitate, Celentano said.
“One thing that is very important is that we want to really spark a conversation and give the full campus an opportunity to affirm what we already know,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that the resolution proposed a $5,000 child care subsidy. It actually proposed a $1,000 subsidy. The story also previously included incorrect numbers for the survey administered by the Columbia University Family Support Network. The article also stated that the survey was sent to students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, but it was only sent to General Studies and Post-Baccalaureate students. Spectator regrets the errors.