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Child Care a Problem Not Likely to Improve Soon for Grad Parents

By Diana Jue

Though MIT’s child care options are “few and expensive” according to Dean for Graduate Students Isaac M. Colbert, new programs are paving the way for improvement.

In the Westgate Apartments Co-op program, which began as a pilot this summer, parents can trade volunteer time for reduced enrollment fees. Additionally, the opening of the Stata child care center in 2004 increased capacity.

But of the 180 plus children under public school age whose parents are MIT graduate students, only 26 are currently accommodated by MIT’s on-site child care facilities, said Kathy L. Simons, manager of MIT’s Work/Life and Child Care Initiatives.

These facilities, now filled, can accommodate 128 children of faculty, staff, and students. The total number of children of graduate students is estimated to be between 660 and 700, according to Simons.

A February 2005 Graduate Student Council presentation ranked capacity and cost as the two major problems with current options on campus.

Costs a hardship for parents

The monthly cost of enrollment in child care ranges by location, age group, and frequency of care. The Technology Children’s Center, which runs the three on-campus child care facilities, charges $1,795 per month for full-time infant care at Stata. This can add up to about $21,000 per year, which is a “huge financial burden in addition to other expenses associated with having children,” said Andr a E. Schmidt, head of Housing and Community Affairs for the GSC.

Having a child in graduate school created “financial stress in making ends meet,” said Lia M. Matos G, a PhD student and mother.

Colbert said that the high cost of enrolling in child care facilities is because of state regulations over child care, and MIT is sensible to liabilities. “We need to proceed deliberately to make sure we make no obvious mistakes,” he said. There is not much funding for child care options because they are not a priority for most donors. It is “not clear how visible an issue it is except for those facing it,” Colbert said.

MIT offers a scholarship for graduate students who meet income and eligibility requirements and have a child enrolled in one of MIT’s child care centers. Currently eight graduate students and four graduate fellows are supported by the scholarship, said Isla H. Pageau, administrator of Child Care Initiatives in the Human Resources Department.

Pageau said that the scholarship is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. The number of scholarships handed out depends on how much aid is given to each family, since need varies and each family is still expected to contribute up to 25 percent. The scholarship is also taxed. However, one requirement is that the spouse of the graduate student must be eligible for work study, which is not the case for many students.

Child care makes small steps

There are four licensed, MIT-affiliated child care facilities: on-campus at the Eastgate Apartments, the Westgate Apartments, Stata, and the off-campus Lincoln Laboratory. Simons said that 110 children are enrolled in the Lincoln Laboratory center, but many graduate students have refused the option because of the lengthy distance from their homes.

The experimental pilot run of the part-day Westgate Co-op, opened in August, reached its enrollment capacity of 12 toddlers by the end of the month, Simons said. Parents are required to volunteer three hours a week to receive the discounted tuition.

Schmidt said that although the program meets the needs of graduate students with flexible schedules or stay-at-home spouses, it is not a good option for those who work or study full-time.

When the Stata child care center opened in 2004, 76 spots were added to what had been 55 spots, Simons said. Infant child care was also offered for the first time.

Colbert said that child care is “one of the more extraordinary issues to address” for MIT, but there “doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight” unless more funding is received for the cause.

Parents turn to informal options

There are also non-licensed child care options on campus. Schmidt said that the GSC is looking into a model currently used by many graduate student parents that she called “Family Childcare Rotation.”

In this model, parents with children rotate responsibility for child care. She said this is a “low cost and effective” form of child care. The GSC now has an online “Family Childcare Match-up Database.”

Another informal child care initiative is BabyNet@MIT, which calls itself a “support network for parents/caregivers at MIT.” The group organizes activities for parents and children to meet each other and offers a babysitting exchange system, and is sponsored by spouses&partners@MIT, Residential Life Programs, the Graduate Student Office, and the graduate students’ Student Life Fee.

Matos worked out a child care situation similar to Schmidt’s Family Childcare Rotation when she lived off-campus with her then newborn daughter. Although it was helpful, it was like “juggling the kids around” and “was not a stable situation,” she said.

Colbert also said that informal care arrangements were not professional, were unlicensed, and were difficult to find.

Kendra Vant PhD ’05 said that MIT’s lack of on-campus student housing for married and partnered couples “creates a double standard.” She said she lived off-campus and participated in the child exchange because she couldn’t afford child care.