News | Student Life

Student group looks to expand child care resources for undergraduates

  • Linda Yin for Spectator
    FAMILY FRIENDLY | Amber Erwin, GS '15 and CUFSN chief of policy, and Katharine Celentano, GS '17 and CUFSN student affairs representative, are seeking to expand the child care resources available to undergraduates at the School of General Studies.

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, 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.  

Graphic by Ryan Veiling

“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.

elizabeth.sedran@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ezactron

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.

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GS'17 posted on

I'm incredibly happy with the progress being made for students with families.

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GSSC Skeptic posted on

Today and yesterday's cover stories remind me why I have little faith in our student government. Everyone is political and self-serving. Every GS candidate will try to make front page before the election.

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Justin Nathaniel Carter - GS Senator posted on

Many thanks to CUFSN for beginning to address this issue!

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Andrew Lawson posted on

Skeptic,

I am truly sorry you feel the way you do. I also understand how campaigns can suscipion, but ask you give CUSFN and Katharine the benefit of a doubt. CUFSN has worked hard on this initiative for some time, and Katharine deserves credit for an exceptional job.

I would ask you to refrain criticism unless it is warranted.

Thanks,
APL

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APL posted on

*can raise suscipion

It's been a long night full of Latin.

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Ron Huett posted on

I just want to express thanks for your efforts, CUFSN and GSSC

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GS '14 posted on

Confused about the resolution. Is GSSC footing the bill, or is GSSC endorsing a call for Columbia to foot the bill?

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APL posted on

GSSC is calling upon Columbia to find and provide the stipend.

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Statistics, please posted on

This seems like a good initiative, although I have some questions about the data.

The article says "59 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 64 percent said that they either had to reschedule an exam or request an extension on an assignment for the same reason". However, the info-graphic cites "76%" and "78%" for the same measures, respectively. Which figures are correct?

Do we know what proportion of GSAS and GS students have children? We can only see the what proportion of those who actually responded to the survey had children - and it's arguable that such a survey has selection bias (i.e. those with children were more likely to respond). While we are obviously interested in how those with children are affected, understanding the scale of the problem is also relevant, and canvassing for a subsidy will require absolute numbers, and not necessarily proportional ones if the university is to budget for those affected. Also, if GSAS students already receive these benefits and were included in the study, then the results are questionable.

How was the survey administered? What was the response rate? Are the suggested subsidy and hours of support per child or per family, and if the former, how is it scaled up?

Is there any way readers can access the full results of the study? I hope that the study is able to fill the gaps that this article doesn't.

Please note that I'm not criticizing the initiative - I think there is good work to be done here, but if you're using these figures as they are to motivate for expansion of child care, then the integrity of the statistics needs to be clearly illustrated.

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Francine Kershaw, VP of Policy CUFSN posted on

Please note that the full report of the survey findings can be downloaded from our website: www.cufsn.com

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Statistics, please posted on

Thanks, Francine.

It seems there are a number of errors in the article (i.e. GSAS was not surveyed and some statistics are quoted incorrectly).

That said, the study still doesn't explain the proportion of students who have children, the survey response rate, or how you intend the subsidy to be provided (i.e. per child/family basis).

I think these are relevant questions.

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GS '14 posted on

Thanks for the way you handled this survey. I don't have kids and posted a critical comment at the end - not sure if the one included in your full report was mine, but in any case my concerns were similar. That said, I was not given the questions presented to student parents and didn't realize how deeply even their academic lives are affected. Sure, any time GS gets less resources than other schools it points to severe discrimination. But this was an illuminating report in its own right. Good luck with your work!

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GS'15 posted on

Wow. Having an 18 mo old of my own, I can attest to the difficulty of managing school and a toddler in tandem. Even if it doesn't work out, it's great to know that there's a bit of awareness. Great work, Katharine and CUFSN.

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GS Vet posted on

Thanks for your hard work in securing this resource for student parents. Your efforts motivate me to be more involved in GSSC and CUFSN... While you affected change through the proper channels, I just lamented my hardships to my advisor.

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