Make childcare accessible for UT parents

Hillary Ma, Columnist

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the October 22 flipbook.

Parents can all empathize with the same question when it comes to raising a newborn child: How and where do you find adequate child care? Child care costs are on the rise in Austin; the financial pressures of COVID are only exacerbating the issue. To serve the community, UT must prioritize expanding their child care services to make child care more accessible for parents campuswide. 

When the pandemic hit, Zoom accommodations gave Maile Marriott, a physics graduate teaching assistant, an opportunity to adjust to parenthood. Turning off cameras and keeping her microphone on mute enabled a semi-smooth balance between her research work and parenting obligations. 

But with UT’s push for in-person classes this fall, Marriott and her law student husband are struggling to find the proper care for their 18-month-old daughter. 

“We’re living off of my graduate stipend,” Marriott said. “We can’t really afford child care.” 

Marriott isn’t the only parent struggling. Other graduate students and faculty members echo this sentiment. 

“We don’t get paid a lot (from the University).” Marriott said. “I’m an employee, but I’m also a student.”

Student employee compensation for graduate students can range from $2,000-$7,000 monthly, depending on your work position. On top of that, graduate students are also victims of Austin’s overpriced rent, utilities and groceries — the basic necessities. 

If you are a new parent searching for affordable child care in Austin, UT’s Child Development Center may interest you at a monthly tuition rate between $800 and$1220. These tuition rates vary depending on two factors: your child’s age and annual income. 

“Austin’s just exploding right now. It’s only going to keep growing and it’s getting harder to find openings anywhere in daycare — even if you can afford it,” Marriott said. 

Another obstacle while applying for child care services at the UT CDC is the infamous waitlist system. Hara Cootes, program director of the Child Development Center, emphasized how important it is for new parents to get onto the waitlist. 

“Even if you’re not interested in enrolling today doesn’t mean you might not need it next year,” Cootes said. “That will assure access when you need it down the road.” 

The average wait time to receive proper child care could reach up to three years, depending on the age of your child. Infants are the longest on the waitlist due to high costs of infant care and rising demand.

Cootes said that the Child Development Center is also in the process of building new schools to open next summer, increasing the overall facility capacity by 20%.

“A lot of child care centers in Austin have closed due to COVID. … The programs that are open don’t provide infant care, which is why it’s really important that we are doubling our infant capacity next summer,” Cootes said.  

The solution sounds easy — pour more funds into the system and hopefully child care can expand accessibility — but it’s a little more complicated than that. 

The problem extends to more than just endowment. Not enough funds are being properly allocated to address the long waitlist and affordability for child care. The University’s efforts should not stop at merely building another facility. The rigidness of the waitlist is causing parents to expend more unnecessary energy, time and stress for a monthly tuition bill way over what they can afford. 

Dancing around these underlying issues and frustrations being expressed by employees and student parents isn’t solving anything. During these turbulent times, parents need and deserve all the support they can get. At the end of the day, no parent at UT should feel punished for having a child. 

Ma is a journalism and Chinese junior from The Woodlands, Texas.