EDINBURG — A grant awarded by the United States Department of Education is giving students at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley a chance to have one less excuse not to go to college full-time by providing grants for child care at the campus Child Development Center.
UTRGV received a $1.5 million grant to renew a service previously held via its legacy institution, UT-Pan American, to provide free full-time daycare services through the Child Care Access Means Parents in School grant program. The grant will be divided into four years awarding the university $374,836 per year, which is aimed at covering 60 to 65 children of Pell Grant-eligible students during the fall and spring semesters, and about 30 over the summer.
“The student parents can bring their child anytime between 7:30 (a.m.) to 5:30 (p.m.),” said Raquenel Sanchez, director of the Child Development Center. “So if they need to attend classes, if they need to study, they are volunteering in campus or they are in student organizations, they are allowed to do all of those things, or even if they work on campus.”
To qualify for the grant, students must be undergraduates enrolled at UTRGV full time and qualify to receive a Pell Grant, a federal aid program awarded based on financial need, and their children must be between the ages of three months and five years old.
The university didn’t qualify for the grant for the last fiscal year and Sanchez said the impact was clear as the center lost about 70 students who couldn’t afford the regular per-child tuition of $115 per week, Sanchez said. Some of these students told them they had to cut back on the number of courses they take, or to completely drop out due to not having anybody to watch their children.
“You realize once you don’t have it how important it is, because since the university has had it the students that knew about it then depended on it,” she said. “So once they had to pay out of pocket that’s when we noticed we lost about 70 students once the grant ended.”
The last years that the program was available, every single slot was filled, she said, and the center also keeps a waiting list of students. While there are also UTRGV employees and even some community members who keep their children at the center, the aim is to give student-parents priority to allow them to acquire a degree in as little time as possible.
The center doesn’t just watch the children, Sanchez said, as they aim to make it a win-win opportunity for parents by providing curriculum aligned with what the child should be learning at their age as well as meals.
“While the student-parent is attending their classes and pursuing a degree, their child is also receiving a quality education with us,” Sanchez said. “We have curriculum that we follow and they are approved by the state and follow state curriculum that even school district follow as well.”