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It's Hard to Find Affordable High-Quality Child Care in Louisville—Especially For Students

Sarah Reddick pays about $12,000 per year in tuition for her third year of law school at the University of Louisville.

She pays about the same amount for child care for her 2-year-old son, Thomas.

"I knew it was going to be expensive. I didn’t realize it was going to be nearly as expensive as law school," said Reddick, who lives with her son and husband.

In recent years, studies have noted the importance of early childhood development in the education of young people.

But that's created a challenge for Louisville and other communities, which must figure out how to make available quality early childhood programs that are also financially accessible to parents. That's especially true for college students who are also parents—responsible for family costs, tuition, books and limited availability for a job.

Why does Louisville have so many fish fries?

The number of college students raising children in the U.S. has increased in recent years, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. At the same time, fewer child care centers operate on college campuses.


Some universities are making it work. The University of Louisville's Early Learning Campus serves school faculty, staff and students, with a special program that gives priority to low-income parents.

Still, some parents are in Reddick's situation—paying child care costs comparable to their tuition.

And that’s if their child is lucky enough to get a spot in the program.

Raising a Child, Heading to Class

A quarter of Kentucky undergraduate students attending in-state schools are raising a child, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And most of them have to find care off campus.

Half of Kentucky’s universities have care on-site or nearby, and less than one-third of the state’s community colleges do.

Using 2011 data, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that the majority of the 26 percent of college students raising children nationwide were women. Many were single parents. Plus, the average undergraduate debt one year after graduation was higher for women than it was for men.


After Thomas was born, Reddick went looking for a child care center that was the right fit—one offering convenience, quality and the right cost. She ended up moving her son from daycare to daycare.

"The whole time we really wanted to get into U of L but we were on the wait list, and they told us that we may or may not get in—ever,” she said.

Thomas was on a wait list for U of L’s Early Learning Campus for 18 months.

This past summer, Reddick was told a spot had opened up. The Early Learning Campus would be twice as expensive as the in-home care where Thomas was currently in day care. But the university’s program was the better fit.

"We went to the open house and he went straight to the train table and absolutely loved it. And after about an hour he still did not want to leave," said Reddick.

U of L’s center was built in partnership with the College of Education and Human Development and serves as a teaching tool, where best practices are used and taught.

"We would not be able to stay open if it not for the wonderful support we receive from the University of Louisville," said ELC director Dianna Zink. "They understand the importance of provide this for all levels of those that are at the university."

There are also a lot of collaborations and research happening across disciplines, she said.

Low-Income Families Benefit, Too

In a way, though, Reddick got lucky.

One-third of the spots at the center are reserved for parents in the Family Scholar House, a program that has partnered with U of L to allow low-income parents to live near campus and be served for free by the child development center while they earn their degrees.

That’s a unique program when considering that few opportunities exist for low-income parents to live and learn near where their child goes to school. The rest of the spots are open to U of L students and faculty, but it’s on a first come, first serve basis.

Right now, the wait list is around 30 for the infant program, Zink said.

"I’ve often joked that I could open another center and fill it," she said.

Zink said the university hasn't yet considered opening another center, though.

"We’ve looked at some places occasionally," she said. "I think less is more. We wanted to have one center and know that we were doing it right."

Being backed by the College and Education and Human Development means that the ELC is also on the forefront of best practices and approaches to child development, said Zink.

That's also part of the reason why the center is more expensive than the average child care center around the county. For infants, the cost per week is $195.

The county average is $138, according to Community Coordinated Child Care, which advocates on behalf of hundreds of Jefferson County centers.

That’s one thing that gave Reddick pause for consideration. She doesn’t qualify for state subsidies, nor is she eligible for the Family Scholar House. And colleges and universities don’t offer discounts for students raising kids.

“We get a discount on basketball tickets,” she said, laughing.

Reddick said it’s worth the cost. She recognizes its strengths and said quality child care actually makes her a better parent.

“His language development has been just phenomenal in the past couple of months. We notice a big change and it’s been impressive," she said.

At the same time, she also wishes more child care opportunities existed for parents who are challenged with finding good care that’s convenient, cost efficient and, more importantly, of high quality.

“We want to have more people who have college degrees in the commonwealth and that’s been a priority not only in public policy but within our community, and that’s a real issue when we have a lot of people who have children and who can’t have quality child care and can’t afford it," said Reddick.