Affordable childcare difficult for grad students to find

Every month, David Salas-De La Cruz spends $900 to leave his nine-month-old son in a day care three days a week.

For families with two working parents, the cost of day care is usually manageable. But for graduate students like Salas-De La Cruz, a Ph.D. student in the engineering school, affordable childcare can be much more difficult to come by.

Three graduate students brought the issue to the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly on Wednesday night in a resolution that will be brought to the administration.

Nicole Thorpe, GAPSA vice chairwoman for Student Life and a master’s student at the School of Design, drafted the resolution, along with Susan Haas, a Ph.D. student in Annenberg and Jacqui Simonet, a Ph.D. student in the medical school.

They urged the university to prioritize finding additional space near campus for affordable childcare facilities and to create a Family Resource Center. They also hope Penn will extend PennCard privileges to children of students so that they can use libraries, recreational and transit services.

Many graduate students have been forced to leave their children at expensive day care centers, which are usually difficult to get into due to long waiting lists. Some international students have brought their parents over from their home countries to care for their children.

“The university has a lot of property and resources which could be utilized to solve this issue,” Haas said. “This is a problem not only for students but also for staff and faculty members with children. A lot of other institutes with lesser resources have provided these facilities to retain students.”

Thorpe added that the lack of resources makes Penn a “less attractive” choice for some graduate students.

GAPSA also asked that the university gather accurate data about the number of students with children. According to a 2004 GAPSA survey, 400 students had children and 120 were either pregnant or thinking of starting a family.

The issue of family space for graduate students is not a new one. Since Mayer Hall – the only dedicated family student housing at Penn – was annexed by Stouffer College House in 1999, no alternative housing has been provided by the university to graduate students with children.

Thorpe said graduate students have since been housed in Sansom East and West, neither of which provide family-oriented living space.

“It is extremely important to juggle student and family life properly,” said Felicity Paxton, director of Penn’s Women Center.

Paxton said that the PWC does not have enough space to accommodate children, but recently does have a nursing room and two parenting groups that are open to all members of the community.

“The administration is generally receptive and this issue should be resolved soon,” said GAPSA chairman Andrew Rennekamp, a Ph.D. student in the medical school.

Haas, a single parent herself, summed it up: “It is a kind of invisibility and we need the university to prioritize us. We are tired of being invisible.”