Issues

NOTE: Information last updated in 2018. Some of these have been addressed (or starting to be addressed since the start of 2018).

How can we strengthen our community and better foster inclusion, well-being, and affordability?

Policies and practices found within higher educational institutions do not exist in a vacuum in isolation from our cultural values. Existing policies are created, shaped, and carried out by individual and collective ideologies. Schools, even in its most ideal state, are a reflection of our societal values. They serve as ecosystems, replicating the inequities that exist across our society.

Pregnant and parenting students face a variety of issues depending on marital status, citizenship, sexual orientation, adoption, race/ethnicity, income status, as well as the number and age(s) of their child(ren). All of these issues interact with one another in producing our diverse research community. A number of recurring experiences are shared among this particular student parent population. The list below includes some preliminary issues based on initial inquiries and conversations with pregnant students and parenting student and postdocs from the past two to three years (2014-2017) and some preliminary proposed solutions. They are not meant to be exhaustive nor represent the full range of voices in the academy. If there is inaccurate information listed, please email SUStudentParent@gmail.com and the information will be updated. Please consult Stanford staff members for the most up-to-date information and guidance for your family needs.

ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE AND QUALITY CHILDCARE

The access to quality childcare in the Stanford/Palo Alto region is limited and the cost is prohibitive for families living off a graduate stipend or postdoc salaries. Full time care at the Stanford affiliate center, such as CCSC range from $2445 for infants to $1850 per month for 3-5 year olds. As children get older, childcare remains an issue for graduate school parents since the K-12 school day ends around 2:30pm. After school child care for elementary school children at local public schools is limited and when available, costs approximately $800 per month.

While staff and faculty have access to the Stanford Child Care Subsidy Grant Program (CCSG), providing grants of up to $5000 a year, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are not eligible for this program. Although faculty and staff can create Flex Spending Accounts (FSAs) to set aside pre-tax funds for childcare, this program is not available to graduate students or postdocs.

Faculty and staff are also eligible for "emergency and back-up" childcare through Cardinal at Work. This includes subsidized rates for "a maximum of 10 days for faculty and five days for staff per calendar year." This program is not available to graduate students or postdocs.

Proposed solutions

  1. Create more on-campus childcare and after-school care options with spaces reserved for the children of students and postdocs, with tuition on a sliding scale.
  2. Prioritize and allocate facilities for childcare and after-school care services and work with high quality partner service organizations in increasing the availability of spots and subsidize the costs of childcare and after-school care for students and postdocs on a sliding scale.
  3. Offer grants/subsidies (that are currently available ($5000) for staff and faculty) to students and postdocs to be used for childcare and after-school care related expenses.
  4. Allow students and postdocs to create Flex Spending Accounts to be used toward childcare expenses.
  5. Expand emergency and back-up care benefits that are currently available to faculty and staff to include graduate students and postdocs. Consider a childcare backup program for single parents when primary care giver cannot show up (illness, etc.).
  6. Consider access and higher priority for single parents to on-campus childcare services. Students and postdocs are given second or third consideration after faculty and those who reside on campus.
  7. Drop-in daycare. A drop-in daycare option would help meet the essential core needs of a number of students. The cost would be significantly lower than full-time care and the center could also serve as emergency backup care for those with other full-time arrangements.

HEALTHCARE

While Stanford covers 50% of graduate students' health insurance for most students, it is the student's cost to cover his/her family (including dependents). In the most recent year (from 2015-2016), health insurance premiums for Cardinal Care were increased by 6.2%. Rates for dependents for 2017-2018 will go up at a rate of 7.5%, while remaining the same for students. A graduate student family of three pays a monthly costs of $769.55 based on the current 2016-2017 Cardinal Care rates with the graduate student individual subsidy coverage at 50%. Healthcare alone takes up 30% of a graduate student stipend (assuming at at $28,000 per year) if he/she does not have a spouse/partner who is working and has alternative insurance options. Additionally, graduate student stipends have not increased as rapidly as healthcare premium costs. As a result, these increased costs are passed directly onto the students' families. A large number of families are on Medi-Cal, especially if the graduate student is the primary, or only income earner. Unfortunately, many doctors and dentists, do not accept Medi-Cal.

Proposed solutions

1. Expand the existing subsidies (50% of costs for graduate students) to include subsides for dependent children.

2. Consider a child healthcare financial support program for single parents with children.

3. Create a community nurse station in Escondido Village for the estimated 250 families currently residing there, or at Vaden, and staff it full time. This extension of service should be part of the mandatory $203 per quarter Campus Health Fee paid by graduate students.

4. Expand Vaden Health Center with a community nurse station to include dependent children.

5. Work with Stanford Hospital doctors to accept Medi-Cal.

6. Inform graduate student families that they may be eligible for Medi-Cal and provide assistance with the application process.

FINANCIAL SUPPORT

A family of four that relies entirely on a graduate student stipend (approx. $25,000) lives below the federal poverty level. Graduate students in this situation have little choice but to take on additional student debt or go on public assistance, such as food stamps (e.g. CalFresh, SNAP), in order to pay for things like health insurance (e.g. Medi-Cal), childcare, rent, and food.

Students receiving stipends as financial aid, such as through prestigious fellowships (like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program) do not typically qualify for student loans; whereas students receiving T.A./R.A.-ship stipends as earned income (i.e. W-2) do still qualify. For example, students have expressed that the inability to access federal student loans (due to fellowship awards) caused financial hardship.

Because Stanford stipends are so much higher than at other universities to compensate for the high cost of housing, students are often exposed to greater tax liability than otherwise would be the case.

For families who receive support from sources such as the EV Family Fund), these funds are considered to be taxable income. For some families, this additional financial resources brings them over the Federal Poverty Limit and prevents them from qualifying for state and federal assistance programs (e.g. Medi-Cal).

Proposed solutions

  1. Offer need-based grants or subsidies for student parents who have no other source of income for their household, especially single parents and international students, whose spouses are often not allowed to work.
  2. Help students find external grants and funding, or low interest loans.
  3. Consider access for single parents with one child to the Escondido Village Family Fund. Grant currently requires two children to be eligible.
  4. Consider use of the Emergency Loan Program for childcare emergencies. Childcare is the number one issue for parents and thus, it is an emergency when not available.
  5. For students who have been awarded fellowships, ensure they still have access to loans in reducing their families' financial hardship.

LACTATION SPACES FOR NURSING MOTHERS

Stanford currently has over 30 designated lactation spaces across its 8,180 acre campus. A number of the existing lactation rooms are inconvenient for many women on campus. Often, the key is located in a different building, or there is a complicated registration process. It is not reasonable to ask a nursing mother to walk across campus several times a day to pump. The designation of "wellness" or "multipurposes" spaces is NOT equivalent to providing a lactation room for designed for mothers who need to lactate (e.g. male staff members have been found using the space to nap while lactating mothers have to asked the "sleeping" member to vacate). Students have been found pumping at their open cubicles, in their cars, in bathrooms, in the conference room, in the advisor's office, or asking their lab/office mates to vacate several times a day.

Some give up on breastfeeding altogether, even though it is not their preference to do so. The lack of dedicated lactation rooms limits nursing women’s access to the university. This is a problem for faculty and staff, but especially for graduate students and postdocs who do not have private offices, and who have classes and meetings scattered across campus.

Proposed solutions

1. Each school's building manager needs to work closely with facilities to find existing spaces that can be used as lactation rooms, not multipurpose "Wellness" rooms. After 2 years, the Graduate School of Education was able to identify and create 2 "Wellness" spaces that are currently used as lactation spaces.

2. Make sure a woman doesn’t have to walk more than 5 minutes to access a lactation room, which is the industry standard recommended in the book Breastfeeding Best Practices in Higher Education.

3. Make it easier for women to gain access to these rooms. If they are to remain locked, we suggest installing a card-swipe system, where once a woman is enrolled in the program, she can have access to all of the lactation rooms on campus.

4. Designate a certified lactation consultant who is available through Vaden health center.

HOUSING

There has been discussions by Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) about reducing the number of family housing available to make room for non-family housing. For the 2015-2016 school year, there are 62% of graduate students are housed by Stanford (5,001 on campus & 708 in off-campus subsidized housing) For many students with families, on campus housing is the only affordable option in the Bay Area that does not require extensive commuting hours to campus. For students who lose their lottery eligibility and have more than one child, the cost of a two-bedroom apartment in the Palo Alto area ranges from $3000 to $3500. Graduate student families may not have the savings nor the credit to pay for non-student housing with their current stipends from the university. A case study on Graduate Housing Affordability was recently completed by a graduate student group.

Stanford charges student families far more than the Below Market Rate (BMR) guidelines for graduate student income brackets and family sizes. For example, here is what Stanford West (an independently owned development) charges Stanford employees who qualify for BMR rates (all graduate student stipends would qualify; the threshold is ~$85k/year for a family of four):

• 1 Bedroom $986

• 2 Bedroom $1,216

• 3 Bedroom $1,669

https://stanfordwest.stanford.edu/prospective-residents/living-here/elegibility/bmr-interest-list

It is unclear whether Stanford is exempted from having to pay into the local BMR program because they insisted that they provide enough affordable housing on campus directly to students to satisfy their requirement. If Stanford were required to add a certain percentage of affordable housing as part of every new development (i.e. adding 2,000 luxury beds in EV, but no new affordable units) there would probably be plenty of $1200/month units available for every family living on a stipend.

http://pah.community/resources/palo_alto_bmr/rental-program/

http://pah.community/find-housing/

Proposed solution

1. Provide housing subsidies on a needs-basis to graduate student families for both on-campus family housing and off-campus housing.

2. Consider access for single parents to lower-cost studios and one-bedroom apartments in EV. While only 2- and 3-bedroom apartments exist within the fencing of the family courtyard, single parents with infants would benefit from lower-cost options, realizing they would need to move to a family courtyard once the child gets older.

3. Consider a parking pass program in EV for single parents who hire childcare givers/professionals.

INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT

Resources for pregnant students and student parents are currently scattered across many organizations, websites, and individuals, including Graduate Life Office, Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Students, Residential & Dining Enterprises, WorkLife Office, Cardinal at Work, the Women's Community Center, Graduate Financial Aid Office, Title IX, and Office of The Ombuds. It is not clear who a graduate student parent (or one who is pregnant) is supposed to contact with questions or concerns.

In a decentralized organization such as Stanford, this makes finding up-to-date information difficult and time-consuming for student parents. It is not always clear what programs and supports are available for graduate students versus faculty and staff. For example, many departments refer students to the WorkLife Office or Graduate Life Office, but many of those benefits, are only for faculty and staff, or students in Stanford housing. This is a major source of confusion.

Furthermore, many students do not take advantage of programs and benefits because they simply aren’t aware that they exist. In other cases, students are given different answers when they seek information. Another problem is that there aren’t any family-friendly spaces on campus, which prevents student parents from building community. While other universities have on-campus family resource centers such as University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago and UC Berkeley, Stanford has no such dedicated resource or space.

Proposed solutions

  1. Collect data on students' dependent status through Axess (similar to data collection related to gender and ethnicity) as standard operating procedures. Basic information may include dependent status and perhaps parental status (i.e. single parent) in understanding the diversity of parents within the Stanford community. Assess needs of this population and monitoring timeline toward degree completion.
  2. Designate a committee focused on pregnant students and parenting students as part of the University committee infrastructure.
  3. Create a mechanism to communicate these resources, as well as elicit student needs in a timely basis.
  4. Create an on-campus family resource center, akin to Women's Community Center and El Centro Chicano y Latino with a meeting space for families.
  5. Designate a full-time staff adviser(s) to help pregnant students and parenting students with questions and concerns (for example, the University of Wisconsin has a “student parent advocate” who has a Masters of Social Work and is trained to provide support for student parents). This person would be the main contact for pregnant students and parenting students with questions. Part of their job would to be coordinate between relevant departments such the Office of VPGE, Graduate Life Office, R&DE, WorkLife, Cardinal at Work, Financial Aid, Bechtel International Center, and Women's Community Center.
  6. Create a Frequently Asked Questions page with up-to-date answers.

PAID PARENTAL LEAVE

Stanford University's current childbirth accommodation policy for pregnant graduate students and postdoc includes 6 weeks of leave with funding. Even the term childbirth accommodation, as opposed to family leave is not inclusive; it is meant to “provide an accommodation for the demands placed on a woman by late-stage pregnancy, childbirth, and the care of a newborn." Fathers, same-sex partners, or adoptive parents are not guaranteed any paid leave as graduate students. This imbalance creates an inequality between men and women as caregivers and is not inclusive of the diverse families that we have in our community. Research shows that by not offering men parental leave, women are less likely to take their maternity leave for fear of losing competitive edge with their male colleagues.

Proposed solutions

  1. Expand childbirth accommodation to include graduate student parents who adopt or give birth via surrogates, and spouses/partners of new parents.
  2. Extend childbirth accommodations to encompass at least one academic quarter (11 weeks).