Monnica Garcia says she lucked out.
After she became pregnant, she hopped on the waiting list for UNM’s Children’s Campus for Early Care and Education while she was still in high school. A year and a half later, her son’s name was called. Garcia enrolled him at the daycare center just in time to start taking classes at UNM in 2002.
There are more than 500 names on the waiting list for Children’s Campus, which serves about 230 youngsters. Students with toddlers and newborns must wait up to two and a half years for their children to get into the program. The list for older children isn’t as daunting, but school-age youths still have to wait about a semester before being admitted. “There’s a substantial need that both undergraduate and graduate students have for these services,” Garcia says. “That need is growing.”
It costs $50 per year to keep your child on the waiting list. Children’s Campus is used by students, faculty and staff at UNM. There are also limited services available for those unaffiliated with the university, but everyone must get in line.
Many students are unable to tolerate the delay. Marcos Chavez says he couldn’t afford to sit on his hands hoping for a slot to open. “I was attracted to the program because they’re one of the highest-quality providers,” Chavez says. “But I had to meet my own needs, so I went to another provider.”
“It’s frustrating because I want to be able to help everybody.”
Elena Aguirre, director of Children’s Campus
Bonnie Sheehan, counselor at New Futures High School, says students with children face a special set of obstacles. “Once you have a child, your priorities change,” Sheehan says. “If you have a sick child, sometimes you have to stay out of school for a few days to take care of them. That’s very challenging.”
Garcia says the Children’s Campus is especially attractive because teachers get help from students learning about education or early childhood development. “My son loved the students,” Garcia says. “They’re younger and cooler, and he interacted well with them.”
The location of the Children’s Campus, which is on University between Lomas and Indian School, also plays a part in students' desire to get their youngsters enrolled. Garcia says she wouldn’t have been able to take certain early morning classes if she couldn’t have dropped her child off nearby. Without that convenience, Garcia says it would have taken longer to graduate and move on to law school. “I parked my car, I dropped him off, and then I’d walk and catch the bus to class,” Garcia says. “That was really helpful.”
Elena Aguirre, director of Children’s Campus, says many of the program’s parents finish their bachelor’s degrees and go on to graduate school. Part of the the decision to further their higher education, according to Aguirre, is the Children’s Campus. “Once they’re in the program, they’ll continue on to their master's so that they don’t have that break in care,” Aguirre says. “They don’t have to find another placement for their children.”
Aguirre says speaking with parents who have given up waiting for a spot in her program is trying. “It’s frustrating because I want to be able to help everybody,” Aguirre says. “I think the program we have should be available to any family.”
“Now we’re back to square one.”
Lissa Knudsen, vice chair of the Graduate and Professional Student Association
Lissa Knudsen, vice chair of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, says students shouldn’t have to look elsewhere for child care. In 2006, the association passed a resolution calling for more accessible, affordable child care for student-parents. Last year, UNM’s Student Affairs Department shelled out $150,000 to fund a design for a Children’s Campus expansion.
The cost of increasing the size of the child care facility is estimated at $6 million. Under the design, another 230 or so youths could be accommodated. That’s not enough to fully satisfy the demand, but it would erase a substantial block of names from the 500-plus waiting list. “The question now is: Where will those six million dollars come from?” Knudsen asks.
The funds for the expansion were almost included in the federal stimulus bill passed in February. But the money got chiseled out of the legislation before it was signed. “We had a close call,” Knudsen says. “Now we’re back to square one.”
The Children, Youth and Families Department offers child care subsidies to undergraduate students, but the Graduate and Professional Student Association wants to see those benefits extended to grad students.
A Senate Joint Memorial was introduced Tuesday, March 3, to create a task force that would look at ways to fund the expansion. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez, would have to pass both the state House and Senate. The memorial is like a bill, except for two key differences: It doesn’t have to be signed by Gov. Bill Richardson and, if it passes, it’s still not a law. That means there’s nothing legally requiring the Legislature to create a task force. Even though it lacks regulatory teeth, Knudson says she hopes lawmakers will follow the memorial anyway, provided it gets their approval.