The campus Graduate Assembly passed a resolution this month defining access to affordable childcare as a basic student need, equivalent to food and housing security.
The resolution created a GA working group that will begin to research and develop strategies to address shortfalls in childcare for graduate students. Now that childcare is defined as a basic need, many student-parents hope that the campus will place greater emphasis on their needs.
“(Providing affordable childcare) keeps people on this campus who have shown a tremendous amount of bravery and perseverance in taking on something that can be really daunting — a degree at Berkeley, while also raising a family,” said GA President Kena Hazelwood-Carter.
The campus Student Parent Center currently provides resources for student-parents and the campus’s Early Childhood Education Program, or ECEP, composed of four Berkeley centers and one at University Village in Albany, offers childcare services.
Monthly payments for ECEP services range from $1,600 for preschoolers to $2,125 for infants — up to $25,500 a year — which Marten Lohstroh, a co-author of the resolution and himself a student-parent, described as “prohibitively expensive.” The average cost of infant childcare in Alameda County is $13,327, according to Lohstroh.
ECEP offers subsidies according to family size and income — however, according to the resolution, graduate student instructors and researchers are often excluded from such subsidies because their income is too high to qualify, but too low to afford appropriate childcare in conjunction with the costs of living in Berkeley.
Graduate student instructors and researchers do not normally reach tenure status in the United States until age 39. Therefore, according to Lohstroh, many have children before obtaining a secure job and salary.
The GA decided to address the issue of housing costs during its 2015-2016 term, while UC Berkeley was conducting an independent investigation into food insecurity among students. Together, these initiatives illuminated connections between these issues and childcare security, prompting the new resolution.
The cost of living in Berkeley is 83.8 percent higher than the average cost of living in the United States, according to Lohstroh. Last year, researchers for the GA estimated that one in five graduate students spent more than 60 percent of their budget on housing, leading the assembly to declare a housing crisis.
Lohstroh said in an email that graduate student incomes often leave student-parents no other option than to personally take care of their children, placing strain on their academic performance and career intentions.
“When you’re a parent, your child’s needs tend to supersede your own needs,” said Tyler Barnum, resolution co-author and former chair of Housing Advocacy Working Group. “Limiting the stigma of these problems is important. People feel insecure about not being able to provide for themselves, let alone for their children.”