Hillary Clinton wants to help student parents complete their degrees by raising federal funding seventeenfold for a roughly 15-year-old program with spotty results.
The Democratic presidential candidate and former secretary of state wants to expand the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program, which gives colleges federal money to help them with their students' child care needs. The federal program helps schools start new programs or expand existing ones, federal budget documents show.
Student advocates are concerned that rapidly increasing child care expenses could prevent student parents from completing their degrees. Roughly 25 percent of college students are also parents, according to Young Invincibles, a Washington advocacy organization, and 25 percent of student parents live in poverty.
Student parents leave school with debt loads roughly 25 percent higher than non-parents, according to Clinton's campaign. Student parents also have less time to study, and many attend schools that don't offer child care services, the campaign said.
To help them, Clinton is promising to increase funding for the federal child care program to $250 million, which her campaign says will create another 250,000 spots for college students' children.
But it's difficult to tell whether the existing federal program is successful at aiding student parents. Of the student parents enrolled during the 2012-13 academic year, fewer than 46 percent remained in school by the end of the year, according to the most recent available data from the Education Department. In previous years, that so-called retention rate was above 60 percent. For at least the past three years, the Education Department hasn't even explained what it would consider to be an acceptable retention rate, budget documents show.
"If you ask student parents why they're struggling in school, or why it's so hard to complete their programs, child care keeps coming up time and time again," said Jennifer Wang, policy director at Young Invincibles.
Wang acknowledged that there's little evidence showing that the federal program helps keep student parents enrolled in school. But, she said, she "just can't imagine why campus-based child care isn't a common-sense solution for students."
About 90 percent of student parents who participate in the existing federal program receive Pell Grants, according to the Education Department, meaning they come from low- to middle-income households. About 85 percent of student parents who use child care services funded by the federal government are women, according to the Education Department.
Young Invincibles in May proposed a boost to $250 million for the existing federal child care program. Clinton's proposal is similar.
Clinton will announce her plan Friday during a campaign stop in Iowa. The plan also includes a new federal scholarship for student parents. The maximum award would be $1,500, and could aid as many as 1 million student parents.
Both elements of Clinton's plan to aid student parents -- increasing federal aid for child care, and creating a new federal scholarship -- would require congressional approval.
CLARIFICATION: Following publication of this story, Colin Seeberger, a spokesman for Young Invincibles, emailed to clarify that his colleague, Jennifer Wang, had stressed that while there was little evidence of the program's success, an Education Department study had shown that 65 percent of students who benefitted from child care programs had remained enrolled for at least one academic year at schools that received federal funding during the 2002 fiscal year.
By comparison, a separate 2013 study published by the nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that only roughly 49.5 percent of student parents who attended classes full time beginning in the 2003-04 academic year either attained a degree or otherwise remained enrolled in school. However, that 49.5 percent figure looked at students over a six-year period. The Education Department looked at students who only attended classes for one year, and did not include figures detailing whether they remained enrolled over the following five years. Furthermore, the Education Department said in its study that the suspect accuracy of its figures "may result in performance being overstated."