We appreciate student parents taking time to share their experiences and suggestions with us. Taken together, they show the deep level of frustration and stress experienced by the student parent population at Northwestern.
Note: we are now accepting testimonies from faculty and staff, since their needs overlap with ours. Each testimony is labeled as follows: ST = staff, S = student testimony collected by NU Student Parent Alliance, G = student testimony from the Graduate Leadership Council Survey.
I am a staff member in a research facility. I have two children, aged 4 and 1. I have been more fortunate than many regarding lactation support, because I happen to be located close to one of the mothers’ rooms on campus. I was really grateful when the university created a new mothers’ room in Tech at a time when the mothers’ room I used was booked solid and very difficult to get into. However, judging from others’ experiences, more rooms need to be created to serve the needs of the mothers on campus.
One issue I think Northwestern desperately needs to address is the issue of emergency backup care for sick children. When I bring this up, it’s invariably met with an incredulous, “But we DO offer backup care!” Which is somewhat true, but the backup care on offer is only for well children, when their usual childcare falls through (e.g. babysitter is on vacation). While I often do have flexibility in my schedule, I work in a lab environment and there are times where I simply must be in the office. When we have an experiment scheduled where four or five people have put in months worth of work and thousands of dollars of research funding, and a timeline has been set in motion that must be adhered to or the experiment is lost, I must be present. My specific skill set is such that my colleagues cannot easily fill in for me. I cannot begin to describe the sick feeling in my stomach when one of my children wakes up with a fever on one of these days. My husband sometimes travels for work, and it’s often not easy for him to take days off either. The mornings where we look at each other over the sick child between us and argue about whose job is more important that day are a significant source of tension in our marriage. Although it makes me feel like a terrible parent and a terrible citizen, I have sent my children to daycare on days when they have no business being there, just because I have to be at work. I lose sleep over this.
I want to be a good employee. I do not want to let my fellow researchers down, I do not want to waste scarce research dollars, and I do not want people to see me as unreliable because I am a parent. Other major research universities have recognized the importance of helping their employees be at work on mission critical days – as just one example, Washington University in St. Louis offers in-home care for mildly ill children at a rate of $6/hour, or center based backup care for $20/child/day or $30/family/day. These are rates I would gladly pay in order to be at work for important experiments. In contrast, Northwestern offers only backup care for well children, at a cost of $75/child/day ($25 of this is reimbursable through a rather inconvenient mail-in rebate-like process, but the hurdle is high enough that in practice I usually end up eating the full cost). $150/day, pending availability, is not easy for us to swing on top of our usual child care payments.
I also worry about the implications that my needing to stay out with sick kids on important days has for my performance reviews and my prospects for promotions and pay raises. My stress levels would be significantly lower and, frankly, I’d have an easier time focusing on work, if I wasn’t distracted by worrying about what I would do if one of my children got sick on a specific day with important experiments. It seems to me that it’s in the university’s best interests to help employees be at work on days where their absence will have a major negative impact on university business.
I am a Northwestern graduate, and former student parent. Both of my children were born while I was pursuing my PhD at Northwestern. Although I greatly enjoyed the TGS Parents’ outings, the NU Parents group [no longer active], and I was EXTREMELY fortunate to have a supportive advisor during the 2nd half of my PhD, generally speaking, I found NU to be unsupportive of student parents. A few examples:
Many have noted the lack of pumping facilities for student mothers. I would like to echo those concerns, and also add that this has been a problem since at least 2008, when I first started looking into facilities for nursing mothers. Despite considerable lobbying efforts on behalf of the student mothers group at that time, it appears nothing has changed.
The policies and support for maternity leave on campus are confusing and idiosyncratically applied, at best. My personal experience was that I was actively discouraged from taking maternity leave following the birth of my first child by both my (now-former) advisor and my department’s administrator. Although both were aware of the 6-week maternity leave policy, they felt that the timing of my birth (late-January) would create budget and scheduling issues – either leaving a faculty member without an RA or a TA. They suggested I take a quarter without pay, which I did, for fear of losing funding, advising or both. I was fortunate that my husband made enough money to cover our expenses without my stipend, but the decision to decline funding for a semester was not without consequences. I was very nearly denied funding in my 5th year – something that was almost universally granted in my program – because my record indicated that I had “declined funding” earlier in my graduate career (which, apparently, counts against you in extended funding applications). The situation was only resolved thanks to considerable lobbying on my behalf by the program director, who happened to be sympathetic to the circumstances of my “declined funding.”
When I applied for maternity leave for the birth of my second child (born in July), I was told that graduate students were not eligible for maternity leave for summer births – neither for the time immediately following the birth, nor for the first 6 weeks during the fall semester following a summer birth, even for students who receive funding during the summer term. Very fortunately my advisor at that time agreed to fund my maternity leave, although he did so from his own funding, without any assistance from the department, college or university.
In my experience, there are few places on campus that are child friendly. In an effort to mitigate daycare costs, several student parents and I had the idea that we would create a babysitting swap on campus. On days when we had to TA classes – we would bring our children to campus, and one parent would sit with 2-3 children, while another parent was in class. However, despite requests to multiple departments and directly through TGS, we were told it was a liability to have children on campus, and therefore we were unable to secure a room.
In sum, although I do not regret having my children in graduate school, I found the experience to be considerably more alienating and isolating that I had anticipated. Now that I am a few years out, it is easier for me to reflect on how real or feigned ignorance, coupled with genuine lack of institutional support, is used to perpetuate (even in my own mind) the sexist idea that women who have children in graduate school are doing something unusual, unacceptable or even a little bit illicit. The women on this site, and those who don’t feel comfortable speaking up but who I know share these same concerns, are not asking for favors. They are asking for reasonable accommodations – accommodations that are normative in many professional organizations and, indeed, at most peer universities as well.
I chose Northwestern’s Ph.D. program over another in part because of my understanding that I would enjoy competitive health and maternity benefits. It seemed like an ideal place to reach my professional goals while not having to sacrifice the personal goal of starting a family during my prime reproductive years.
I should have read the fine print! Northwestern’s policies are relatively supportive of faculty (and as of recently, staff), but they do not provide sufficient support for full-time graduate student parents. These students perform key labor for the university and, in turn, often depend on the university for their entire living.
In my family’s case, we hand over 80% of my monthly stipend for childcare costs alone. Adding our son as a dependent to my student health insurance would have eaten up the remaining 20% and more. It is only because of the Affordable Care Act insurance option (which, for us, is $2,000 cheaper than NU’s plan) and that I have a spouse with a small income that we are able to barely stay afloat financially. I know many NU graduate students are not so lucky, and are forced to take on debt to cover the basic costs of having a family while in school.
I agree with all of the solutions proposed by this group. As long as NU employs graduate students to do work for the university, it should also provide them with the same family policies that faculty and staff enjoy. Otherwise, if having a family is in a student’s plans, they would do well to take up their other Ph.D. program offers.
Thank you for taking the time to meet with NU administrators about the challenges of being a parent NU. As the father of a 3 year old daughter who was born just a couple months before I started my graduate studies at NU, I have run into a number of challenges. I am sure others have mentioned these issues to you, but NU provides very little assistance in different forms for students with children. I did take advantage of the subsidized child care through Bright Horizons. While this was an excellent institution for early childhood education, it was extremely expensive. After the subsidies and discounts for being low-income (I am in the lowest income tier), I paid $848.83 per month. After taxes are taken out of my paycheck, I am typically paid only about $1,600 per month. Thus, over half of my income goes to child care and leaves very little for rent, food, and medical expenses. The astronomical cost of healthcare for students with families is simply not affordable. Thus, my daughter had to rely on Medicaid (All Kids). To make ends meet, I have had to take on thousands of dollars in student loans. All of which seems a little ridiculous given the financial resources of NU. A few things that I would like to see:
1. Greater subsidies for childcare that make this affordable on a student stipend.
2. Subsidies for part-time childcare. It is my understanding that NU only subsidizes full-time childcare. Subsidizing part-time childcare would allow their subsidies to pay a larger portion of the monthly childcare bill.
3. Reduced health insurance premiums for family plans.
4. Maternity leave for mothers and fathers.
Thank you again for your assistance.
Thanks for taking the initiative in bringing up the particular challenges and issues facing parent/students at NU.
I’m a third year Ph.D. student. I have a 5 year-old and an 8 year-old. When I began my studies at Northwestern I had a kindergartener and a preschooler.
In fall of 2012 my family (husband and two children) moved to a small town about 12 miles north of Evanston in order to serve the needs of my commute and my husband’s job. Because of that I ride the Metra rail into Evanston, which is an expense not covered or subsidized by NU. I do not use my CTA/El pass and I cannot decline it. (I tried to ask them not to make me one since I don’t use it, but was just told that I had to pay for it in my student fees whether I used it or not and so I would be getting one.)
Total cost for one academic year commuting: $1,089
One of my children has challenging health needs that require great care in her environment and do not make a traditional preschool/daycare setting possible. Because of this I pay for in-home childcare for my children. The weekly hours vary greatly from 40 hours/week during finals and other times of high required output to 0 hours/week during breaks. In addition to finding and managing in-home childcare the cost of having the kind of care my children need puts me in the tax category of an employer requiring me to pay the “nanny tax,” register with the state as an employer, and more.
Total cost for one academic year for childcare and taxes: $13,682
We purchase health insurance through my husband’s employer because the cost to insure my entire family through Northwestern is prohibitive.
My husband and I have chosen to homeschool our children. This situation is far outside of the norm for the American public let alone the much smaller world of grad students at NU. I know of no other student, faculty, or staff member who homeschools at NU.
It would be nice to feel that my experiences as a parent are valued and supported rather than tolerated as long as I am meeting benchmarks. It would also be nice to have a place or person to go to as I navigate the particular challenges of parenting as a scholar-in-training. (I think a lot about what I need to know going on the job market about potential employers and how to find that out without marking myself as a “mom” and perhaps lowering my chances of being hired.)
One other thing I’d like to mention is the culture surrounding parenting and pregnancy at Northwestern. I am due with my third child in early spring. I have asked a few women (mothers) I know who are either further along in my program or have graduated from it about whether I should take maternity leave or not. I was trying to find out how it worked at NU, whether it impacted assistantships, etc. Of the women I talked to none suggested I take maternity leave for my own benefit. One shared a horror story of someone’s funding getting completely messed up because she took maternity leave. Another said I should talk to someone in TGS about how it currently works without letting on that I am pregnant, and the other said she wouldn’t suggest it for me. The only reason I was given to take maternity leave was to improve TGS’s ability to track data on parent/students. My advisor graciously rearranged my assistantship duties so that I would have an extremely light load in spring quarter. However, I hesitate to say that the arrangement is truly a service to me, my department, TGS, or the university. Handling pregnancy “in house” on a departmental level reinforces a pattern of hiding and dismissing childbirth and childrearing as something exterior to academia. It does not create a space for dialogue and acceptance of students (women in particular) who choose to incorporate children into their lives. It concerned me that rising scholars have already accepted the cultural norm surrounding childbirth/child rearing in academia rather than challenging it to insure a healthier and more supportive environment for all parents.
1. Recommendation: departments or TGS should include a page of family information in recruitment materials and at orientation. This could be a “one-stop shop” of information regarding lactation rooms, preference for spouses in the NU hiring process (as NU affiliates), information about local child care facilities and scholarship/grant opportunities, information on the dependent care grant for conference travel, etc. On a related note, there should also be one or two people students can contact in the recruitment process with family-related questions; in my experience I was hesitant to ask specific questions because of my position as a not-yet admitted student and my status as a mother.
2. Recommendation: there should be a sort of ombudsperson appointed for dealing with issues related to families/parenting who can facilitate negotiation between students and advisers/departments regarding navigating family responsibilities and the demands of graduate work, for example, the need for “sick leave” because children are not permitted in day care facilities when they have a fever, the demands of the first year of parenting, especially on mothers, the necessity to leave labs at a reasonable hour to pick up children from facilities that close, etc.
3. Recommendation: more lactation facilities, specifically, one in every building! It is not sufficient to have facilities spread out 10-15 minutes walk between buildings. This results in students (and employees) in buildings not in close proximity to lactation rooms having to take an hour away from work to walk to/from a lactation room to use a breast pump. And if one pumps twice or three times a day, it almost negates the time spent on campus.
4. Experience: we have been very happy with our experience at the Bright Horizons day care facility in Evanston, which was the only center that had space available when we needed it, however, this option was only accessible to us because my partner worked at NU (so had a full-time salary) and we also received an NU discount. This meant that my stipend could pay for childcare (!!!) and his salary could support our living expenses. Child care is a necessity for parents seeking to complete coursework, exams, and a dissertation in a timely fashion and options must be available and affordable.
5. Recommendation: TGS should create opportunities to discuss how DGSs can help create departmental environments where families, and conversation about families, are welcome.
I’m a student parent — arrived here for grad school 3.5 years ago pregnant and with a 2-year-old. Now they are 5 and almost 3!
My concerns with the (lack of) support trace pretty exactly what you have outlined on the website. I’m not sure how best to add my story! NU’s subsidized daycare is not affordable, even with my partner’s income (the idea of trying to raise my children on just my stipend is terrifying). We ended up using an in-home daycare near our house, and even that is over half the monthly stipend for ONE of my two kids. Because insuring them through NU seems undoable, the kids are on state-subsidized health insurance, which feels crazy for an employee of a well-endowed private university. I feel guilty about it, but there’s no real alternative financially.
The breastfeeding resources — a relatively minor accommodation — are, indeed, ridiculous at NU. I ended up weaning my second child, the one born while I was here, at only four months (almost a year earlier than my first child) because I simply could not go to the library for an hour to pump multiple times a day. When I asked in the department, I was offered the conference room, which seemed only marginally less public than just pumping in the hallway (it’s an extremely popular event space and can be accessed from multiple unlocked doors). This isn’t a reflection on my department particularly — there aren’t any other spaces set aside. After two sessions in a smelly bathroom, I gave up. A nursing room in every building, or within a distance that does not require a coat to walk, would be a big step toward making nursing mothers feel like they’re not actively transgressing by pumping.
Also, regarding paid time off. I was due to deliver near the end of Winter quarter of my first year — smack in the middle of coursework. Because it seemed completely unfeasible to just stop getting paid for three months with a baby in the house, I wanted to avoid taking a quarter’s leave (and now, hearing about people’s difficulty with effectively stopping their funding clock, I’m especially glad I did!) So I took four graduate classes instead of three my first quarter, did a regular quarter of courses while 9 months pregnant, missing the last session of classes for my son’s birth, and arranged to do an independent study and an undergrad course to meet my coursework requirements with the minimum amount of on-campus time in the Spring, 3 weeks after he was born. While I recognize that allowing this schedule constitutes an accommodation on the part of The Graduate School (they let me get paid despite only taking 2 rather than 3 classes in the spring, because I had proactively taken the extra class in the fall), it is also kind of an insane workaround in retrospect and caused quite a bit of stress. If there had been some way to figure out partial funding during parental leaves, that would have been an enormous relief.
I’m a 5th year PhD student with two kids. I started my first year with a 10th month old and my daughter was born at the end of my second year. As a whole, I am grateful for the assistance that I have received from NU. I have received dependent care grants to support childcare during conference travel, fun outings through TGS Day Outs, and tuition scholarships to subsidize the cost of my kids’ attendance at Bright Horizons. I appreciate the opportunity to share with NU administrators some of the issues that I’ve encountered as a student parent and to identify areas where I believe NU could better support us as student parents.
Childcare expenses are too high. When my daughter started attending Bright Horizons, the combined cost for childcare for a preschooler and an infant was $1956.67, which included a 10% discount and NU fee-assistance. The cost was half of our combined income. There are no sibling discounts and the tuition increases each year. The tuition assistance often does not increase proportionally with the tuition increases. Despite decreases in tuition as the kids progress into classes with lower teacher-student ratios, the amount of financial assistance decreases as well, so you are still paying the same amount.
As graduate students, we are ineligible for NU’s Dependent Care FSA, which has tremendous tax implications. Recently when the tax code required that all NU childcare assistance be considered taxable, this action not only decreased our net assistance received, but also increased our gross income. This increase had implications for other assistance that we might have otherwise been eligible that is determined based on gross income, such as All Kids. When TGS provides us with dependent care grants, they give us slightly more than the $500 to account for potential tax obligations. I wish NU did the same with childcare tuition assistance.
The cost of dependent insurance through the Aetna Student Health Plan is cost-prohibitive. We were fortunate to find out about the All Kids program and sign up our kids. My wife is part of the Aetna plan. We pay by the quarter, but our heart drops each time we have to write a $1700 check. We have tried on three occasions to sign my wife up for subsidized medical care, but the incompetence and inaction through DHS has led us to borrowing money to pay for her healthcare. It is humbling to qualify for state-aid as a graduate student.
My wife HAS to work to provide supplemental income for us to support the family and pay for childcare. Because eligibility for health care and childcare subsidies are determined by our income, we are in a precarious position, because we can’t make too much or else we could lose our kids’ healthcare and receive less subsidies for childcare, which would outweigh the increased income that we would have received from her additional hours. Although I was on two external fellowships, I had to do additional work in order to earn extra money.
Student Parking Costs
Student parking costs need to be subsidized. Although TGS provides us with subsidized CTA passes, this is not a practical option for me as a student parent. Because my wife works farther away, I am the parent tasked with driving the kids to daycare. It’s not feasible for me to bring the kids by train or wait for a shuttle, particularly in the winter months or in the rain. For two years, I paid for the student parking. However, I could no longer afford to do so with the increased cost of putting my daughter in childcare. Now, I return home after dropping the kids off and have been working at home consistently since my fourth year. When I have to weigh whether I am going to put food on the table or buy diapers, I am going to choose those things over parking.
The inability to afford parking has had a negative impact on my relationships with other students and faculty in my department. I am grateful that my key research group meeting is a video conference. However, I am embarrassed each time I am asked why I am not “around” more. I already was unable to attend many functions because I had to return home to take care of the kids. I feel tremendous pressure to maximize the time in which I have the kids in daycare, since I cannot work after my kids come home from childcare or on the weekends. I work late in the evenings, which puts strain on the marriage. I often compare myself to others in my program who do not have kids and get depressed by my perceived “lack of progress”. I have to keep reminding myself that I am a dad and husband first and count our blessings to keep my spirits up. However, there is not a day in which I question whether I made the right decision to pursue this career path and whether the sacrifices that I am making my family go through is worth it.
I am an alum, but can share my experiences from when I was at NU.
I found the pumping rooms helpful, however, I wish there was one in each building. I barely used the ones available, and ended up pumping in my car or an empty classroom-if I found one, which obviously left me with a few awkward situations.
Also, I wish there were more resources of credible child care for NU students at an affordable rate. The cost of being a student is already high and it’s helpful if there was a place where NU parents can view reviews of local child care which they may utilize.
Also, since it’s difficult being a student and parent a support group would be nice, to share ideas and tips on managing both roles.
I think the work you and the group is doing is great, thanks for taking the time to make life better for NU student parents!
I am a graduate student who also is the father of two children and I have been married to my wonderful wife for the last four years. We moved from Washington State, to take up graduate school. We really like Northwestern, but going back to school with kids is also a daunting task, that takes a lot of planning on my part and my wife’s part. What we have encountered is a system that is not friendly to families, that in general makes little effort to help families. I would like to see Northwestern be more family friendly by providing a few more options for students with families. Here are just a couple of suggestions for improvement.
I applied to be a RA/CA for graduate housing. I was hoping it could be a shared job between my wife and I, I was informed that only “students” can hold this position. This was disturbing and frustrating because if we could earn our housing through working between my wife and I then we might be able to keep our costs down and even possibly not have to take out loans. This is an example of a policy that is not family friendly.
When learning about the great student health center and its offerings, I was informed that again only “students” of northwestern could benefit from its offerings. This is another example of non-family friendly policy that Northwestern holds. I think it is great that Northwestern has made so many efforts to reach out to minority groups, to make LGBT people feel welcome on campus etc etc. But the welcoming atmosphere has become more of a pro-single person and ya’ll with families “figure it out for yourselves” atmosphere. This is most disappointing.
Another example of a policy of a non-family friendly policy that NU holds has to do with the NU shuttles. The spouse card gives shuttle privileges however in the shuttle policies posted in the student housing, it clearly states that strollers are not welcome. My spouse, trying to get two young children around town, needs to use a stroller, yet she bought a spouse card, and is told that strollers on the shuttles are not welcome. This is not family friendly at all.
I would also like to suggest that the NU student Rec/Gyms provide some morning time babysitting so that spouses may go and do some work outs.
A spouse of a student is doing a lot to make it possible for the student to return to school. Lets be inclusive of spouses of students.
I am a soon-to-be student parent and my husband is a part-time student at NU as well. He is in the school of continuing education while I am associated with the medical and graduate school. Therefore, we cannot yet really provide a fair testimony of our experiences with Northwestern as parents. . . though I think we could both make a number of choice, comments on how virtually nonexistent childcare options are.
Take care! Thank you for reaching out.
I am SO happy to hear about the NU student alliance’s efforts. I definitely feel that the institution has made it such that it is a major sacrifice to be a graduate student parent precisely because it lacks necessary supports. I can personally attest to that fact since I have resorted to applying for medicaid for my child because I cannot afford the NU healthcare coverage for him as a dependent. My son is in elementary school and I strive to attain a quality education for him, so I made the decision to send him to a private school rather than send him to the under-performing public school in the south suburb where my mother and I reside. Most of my monthly stipend goes to his school payment, my car payment, and fuel costs for commuting from the south suburbs to Evanston (and back) on a daily basis.
I have also found it difficult to participate in graduate student events and workshops because many take place in the evening, and it is difficult to even get my family members (many of whom work or study) to take care of him because it conflicts with their schedules. That’s why I think that it would be lovely for Northwestern to either provide on-site care (even at a small fee) options and/or a subsidy to help us with such care, particularly for parents with very small children. UIC provides such subsidized childcare for students and faculty, and U of C has its own school with financial assistance available for lower-income applicants.
I find it disappointing that an institution with departments experienced in the study of issues of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities is itself lacking in support systems to help its own student population.
Thanks for spearheading this effort.
I concur with the financial frustrations – with two little boys younger than kindergarten, my entire (ENTIRE) monthly stipend went directly to childcare last year, plus some, and that’s with the (very small) Northwestern discount offered by that facility.
Because of my stipend, we just barely do not qualify for NU fee assistance; last year, this meant we paid almost $24,000 out of pocket for childcare. Considering Evanston’s substantial cost of living (particularly for families), the child care fee assistance salary cap should be much higher than it currently is, with more funds allocated.
I am a student parent of a 9 year old girl, and I share your thoughts about the healthcare costs. I also commute from suburbs and i drive 3.5-4 hours on the days I come to school, which at least 3 days and most of the time 4 days a week. I wish there was a k-12 school within the NU for NU families that I would bring my daughter with me to school and not to worry about her timing and schedule and I could be taking advantage of my school take more classes participate workshops and seminars…which I can never do due to family responsibilities and timing….and I could be a more productive successfull student and a happier mother.
In my country some big universities have k-12 schools within them for their community and
those students do better compare to most other schools since all the parents have a common interest in such a leading university. Maybe this sounds like a utopia but thats what I wish for… no limit right?
What programs and resources did you find the most helpful?
Sitter City, obviously. That was used regularly. We also used the NU credit to enroll in Bright Horizons, which seemed great, but was not ultimately a good fit for our family. My wife and daughter were on All Kids insurance the whole time we lived in Chicago (we’re actually back in California now) and that was really wonderful. From birth to pediatrician, the process was smooth and affordable.
What questions do you have about benefits and other university policies?
After looking at your list of comparing NU to other institutions, I’m baffled that we don’t have at the very least an additional stipend and child care centers on campus. Our family spent so much money in child care costs (esp. b/c my wife was also in school at the time and not working) that we had to take out more loans to cover the approx. $1,000/month in nanny fees.
What have been your frustrations?
Nothing really specific, just a general lack of recognition that grad students are also parents. I don’t get a sense from faculty or other grad students that they understand what it’s like. I don’t feel like I’ve been discriminated against, per se, but grad school is just such a different experience with a child than without.
What suggestions do you have to improve the situation for student parents at NU?
LOTS of info up front and accessible. This new website looks great (I don’t remember it four years ago). And just make sure that incoming students are aware of it. I had a lot of questions coming in (I didn’t even know about All Kids) and I was lucky to run in to someone who did.
Keep on fightin’ the good fight! And trying to make room for families in academia!
I’m actually really disappointed in NU’s policies toward students with children. In particular, I was shocked at how expensive the day care situation was – it ended up not even really being an option for us, would’ve taken up my whole stipend. I’m also disappointed at the lack of space available to nurse or pump. I have multiple friends who basically have to ask their (sometimes male) officemates to leave the room two or three times a day because there’s no space for them to pump in private. And it’s unrealistic to ask students to trek to the library two or three times every day to do this.
Ideally, I’d want cheap (free?), easily accessible, high quality, onsite child care and at least one “mother’s room” in every academic building.
Thanks for taking this up!
I read through the webpage you made and thought it was great. The biggest takeaway for me was actually how much I’d given up on NU helping me through anything. I faced many of these problems several years ago and after getting negligible support, my wife and I decided to just do things on our own, from applying to All Kids, WIC, IMG health insurance for my wife, staying in Evanston (though it’s more expensive) so we could get NU-family-related discounts for enrolling our kids in the YMCA school and activities (and basically trawling through anything “free” or “affordable (i.e. with scholarships/subsidies for grad students on stipends)” that might be available either in the YMCA or nearby community centers, e.g. Robert Crown Center, Chandler Neuberger Center. We’re really so far gone from NU “support” that I’d completely forgotten how little they help! One other thing: after 3 years of getting a NU-family scholarship (reducing the cost to about half-price) at the YMCA school in Evanston, the Y told us that NU decided in spring 2014 to stop supporting grad students with discounts/scholarships (!!!). Thankfully, the Y said that they continued to value their relationship with NU families and would try to meet us halfway (so far they have, but for how long?).
I am a second year Grad Student and I have a 2-year old toddler. I am Brazilian and my wife and I moved to US one year ago, because of Grad School. While we are enjoying our staying in the country, being a Foreigner, a Grad Student and a Parent is not easy. Part of the problem is that my wife is overwhelmed, and I partially attribute this to the fact that Northwestern do not help us much to provide day care to our children. This situation created an imbalance in our household that had never existed before. Far from our family network, and without university support, my success in Grad school became dependent upon the burden this arrangement put on my wife. How can this be a situation of a PhD student in a top-university? NU wants to promote diversity on campus, but that cannot be followed by gender inequality in graduate students households. Now, our son is in a day care for 3 hours a day, but this is clearly not enough, not to mention the pressure in our monthly budget.
Providing a better assistance to day care for grad student’s families is important not only because an university like NU has the duty to fight against (and not to foster!) gender inequality in society, but also because it is a important policy for science: Taking a holistic view about the lives of scientists and students is fundamental to foster their production and dedication to their own fields. Therefore, it is NU’s interest to think about grad student’s personal lives as well!
First, I want to say thank you for soliciting feedback across departments! My wife is pregnant (due in February).
As far as experience about being a parent and grad student goes . . . I can’t say anything definite yet! My thoughts heading into it are as follows:
I do appreciate the NU childcare subsidy and discount offered at affiliate childcare centers, but childcare is still prohibitively expensive. It really would be nice if NU subsidized quite a bit more graduate student childcare. It’s my sense that parent graduate students might be parenting and not dissertating, so if the university wants to push (churn?) graduate students through their programs they should make it easier and cost effective to use childcare. The university could save money by not paying them to be graduate students longer than need be. (Again, I’m not a parent yet so I can’t say anything with certainty.)
Although my department has been very supportive, it is unclear what I can reasonably ask of my professors (including the one I will be TAing for) when my wife delivers. Is it fair of me to take a week off of class? Am I expected to be at class if my wife is in labor during it? I know that some of these matters can be handled by meeting with my professors at the beginning of the quarter, but I think it would be nice if, at the very least, TGS encouraged departments to come up with some reasonable expectations of students and faculty when students are having children during the academic year. Setting some base expectations and ground rules would be helpful for all involved.
I am a graduate student at Northwestern and recently became a student parent.
I am based on the Chicago campus and would like to see more childcare options available. I added my name to the Bernice E. Lavin childcare center wait list soon after becoming pregnant and it still isn’t certain whether a spot will be available for my son when I return from my 12 week maternity leave.
I would also be interested in having more mother’s rooms and baby changing tables available on campus. Since I do research in the Robert H. Lurie building, I would personally benefit from having these available in that building.
Responses from the 2012 GLAC report
Below are the free responses collected from the Graduate Leadership Advocacy Council (GLAC) survey section on parenting. We are grateful to the GLAC for working with us to improve data collection on student parent issues.
Child care is very expensive and beyond my financial capabilities
There is ZERO support for graduate student parents on the part of TGS. Simply linking to the information set up for staff is NOT HELPFUL. I wish I could nanny share, or use sitter city, but on a graduate student stipend, that is simply not possible. The University parenting information is set up for people who earn a real salary, not for graduate students.
It is extremely difficult to find quality child care. We pay $1200/month for child care, which is more than we can really afford. It would be so great if NU could provide partial scholarships to help grad students pay for childcare. It would be a good investment, because childcare is essential for parents to complete their degrees in a timely manner. The cost of covering a child under the Aetna student health plan is prohibitive. Luckily my husband’s plan is a little better.
Child care is extremely expensive. I can either pay the rent and have money to buy food (but not pay for childcare) or I can ask for loan, pay the rent and child care, but in this case I wouldn’t have money to buy food for my family… And the health insurance for dependents is just too expensive.
Had to stop breastfeeding early; additionally, regular activities that take place late in the day are difficult to attend because daycare hours end
I had a difficult time in securing approval from my advisor for taking a maternity leave. In addition, my stipend is not sufficient to cover good-quality childcare expenses.
NU offers no help in regards to child care or dependent insurance, both costs which are astronomical given our stipend. Thus, we use state health care and have limited day care options.
The cost to add a dependent to my NU health plan is OUTRAGEOUS. I’m lucky (and I say this in jest) that my wife could not find work so that we could qualify for AllKids. Why is it so expensive to add a spouse or child? It would take up about half of my yearly stipend. That’s not feasible for anybody and shouldn’t even be offered.
I really wish NU had onsite child care. I’m aware the subsidize the YMCA, but the waiting list was very long and we did not get a spot in the time frame needed. Also it’s very expensive.
Being able to pay for childcare and dependent’s insurance on a graduate student stipend is difficult. Especially since I devote so much time to research (>60 hours per week)leaving little/no time for the possibility of a second job to pay for these additional expenses.
We can not afford child care for multiple children
I don’t know if there is assistance available to help me pay for child care
High prices of NU plans for dependents
NU does not have its own childcare facility. Its tie-up with the YMCA is useful, but still not enough, since full-time care at the Y is more than a graduate student’s stipend. Its recent tie-up with Bright Horizons was almost a sham, since BH only reduced 10% costs, which is nothing. Dependent health insurance for a child is more than $3000 per year. All this makes it difficult to raise a child/children while in graduate school. More and more parents are coming back to graduate school to build upon their careers. They bring substantial work experience and expertise that improve the services they provide to the university, whether it is teaching, research, or any administrative duties. The university should take care of them.
As a new graduate student I scheduled an appointment with health services and the doctor did not prescribe birth control because I was nursing. Additionally finding and paying for dependent health insurance day care is quite expensive, esp. when a graduate student is the sole provider.
Difficulty keeping up in classes, scheduling lab work and class work around day care
We can’t afford child care on my stipend, and the cost of putting my dependents on my insurance plan was prohibitive. We opted for a state medicaid program instead, which has worked well.
Child care is incredibly expensive in Evanston and the Chicago area. The subsidized child care at McGaw YMCA through Northwestern would still cost my family over $1000 per month. That is 2/3 of my income–leaving little money for rent and expenses. I have researched the costs of subsidized child care for graduate students at over 30 major universities. Northwestern provides the lowest amount of assistance and is located in one of the most expensive cities for child care. This is essentially a system that places an incredible financial burden on young families.
Insurance is expensive, and my husband was covered under private insurance. Now we are paying ~$900/mo for insurance for our family.
Northwestern does not provide a lot of parental benefits to students. Finding and affording childcare are extremely difficult. The process for pregnancy related referrals from the NU Health Clinic is time consuming and unproductive. Northwestern needs to invest in graduate student parents so they feel more comfortable coming back to school full time sooner and can finish their degree more quickly.
I struggle with productivity and balancing parenting. Childcare costs are 45% of my wife and my combined income. Because of childcare costs, my wife has to work part-time. In addition, the cost for childcare is high and availability low for childcare spots in Evanston centers.
If the dependent insurance can be covered by school, it would make me feel more secure and allow less economic concern
Very long waiting list for daycare enrollment, few daycare options close to campus, no funding during maternity. No real policy on maternity leave period for graduate students. I had to pay for health care portion of the Aetna coverage myself during my one term leave (~600$)
Two of my sons are uninsured. I pay some of their dental and medical bills, which are always exorbitant because each medical facility adjusts costs upward for the uninsured. We need a single payer national health care system. (I’m not kidding about the 5 children. I also have 5 grandchildren.)
The support for student parents at Northwestern is slowly getting better, but there is much that needs to be improved. A few examples: -The student health insurance does not cover adequate pre- and post-natal care for student mothers. Most mothers pay out of pocket for expenses like ultrasounds and prenatal vitamins. -The best OB/GYNs do not take the student health insurance. This is especially true for those who deal with high-risk pregnancies. -It is difficult to find out about maternity and paternity leave, and students who request maternity or paternity leave are stigmatized and often told by their departments that no such leave is available (despite university policy). Maternity and paternity leave should automatically be granted to students who have children (whether by birth or adoption), no questions asked. Departments need to be educated about the university policies so that students receive appropriate benefits. -Even if students pause funding while they take maternity/paternity leave, they are not always able to collect the funding after they return. I had a very difficult time getting an “extra” year of funding, even though I was guaranteed 5 years of funding and only used 4 years because I did not take funding while I was on leave. I have also heard of cases where students who took time off simply are not eligible for funding (even if their departments want to provide it) because they are in their 7th+ year. If a student has multiple children in graduate school, it is not at all unreasonable that s/he might take 7 years to complete a PhD. -Childcare is expensive, and hard to get into. The NU subsidized options are among the most expensive around – even with the subsidies, it is cheaper to go with in-home care with no subsidy. Care at the YMCA and Bright Horizons is really only accessible on a faculty salary, even with a subsidy. A better solution would be to offer a childcare grant that students could apply for and use to cover whatever childcare option they choose. That way, students could find affordable in-home daycares, nanny shares, etc. all of which are more affordable than the daycare center options. Many other schools offer these kinds of grants (USC, Madison, Michigan, Yale and Cornell to name a few) – even a few thousand dollars per year would really help out. -There is also a severe lack of part-time/flexible childcare options, especially in Evanston. Most grad students do not need full time care, and could save money if they could find part time options. In addition, it is almost impossible to find care that runs on a shifted schedule – noon to 8pm for example – so graduate student parents can’t attend lab meetings, TGS meetings, etc. that occur after hours. It’s very frustrating that almost every TGS and GLC meeting is held in the evening – we (student parents) want to come to voice our concerns, but without childcare it’s impossible to do so. -Despite years of requests, there continue to be only 3 very overcrowded nursing mother’s rooms on the Evanston campus. There are often long lines and signup procedures have helped streamline the process only a bit. Nursing mothers need more options for private rooms for pumping. -There are few places on campus that are child friendly. Every graduate student parent I know has been harassed for bringing children to campus for meetings. One even had the police called on her because (apparently) children are not allowed in the university library. Without affordable childcare, graduate students are often forced to bring their children to campus. It would be wonderful if there was a child-friendly meeting room that we could use.