Due to large number of graduate students with families, Duke has looked at ways to improve its child care policy.
In 2008, the graduate school decided to implement child care policies to help support students who either came to Duke as parents or decided to start a family while pursuing a Ph.D—a change that was made after examining policies at similar institutions. Officials and students alike have noted the positive impact the policies have made on such individuals.
“We began to see more and more students who were trying to figure out ways to support families,” said Jacqueline Looney, senior associate dean for graduate programs and associate vice provost for academic diversity.
Looney said the policy was approved and developed by an executive committee of graduate school faculty in 2008 and first accommodations were implemented in the fall of 2009. Looney said that former President Nan Keohane had promoted a women’s initiative during her tenure from 1993 to 2004, and so child care support was in line with her goals.
“Receiving the child care subsidy has made a huge difference in both mine and my husband’s research careers,” said Alex Bey, a graduate student in neurobiology whose husband is also a graduate student. “With the subsidy, we can afford to put our twins in part-time daycare, which means we both can work at the same time and during normal business hours.”
Graduate students’ stipends are typically above the income cut-off for state or local child care assistance. Bey noted that the graduate school offers those services through the University.
“This program is specific to the graduate school and the students who are eligible are Ph.D students,” Looney said. “This is nothing to do with professional schools. I don’t know what kinds of policies the professional schools have in place.”
Bey added that the childbirth or adoption accommodation policy is another way that Duke supports students starting or adding to their families. Under this policy, students are eligible to be excused from research and/or teaching duties for a maximum of seven weeks.
“This policy really allowed me to focus on bonding with my newborn twins and learning to care for them before I was also trying to juggle being a first-time parent and a full-time researcher,” Bey said.
Looney noted that in addition to the policy of the actual child care subsidy that was initiated in 2003, there are support groups at Duke, as well as a graduate-parent listserv through which parents can discuss child care needs and recommendations.
“There are a series of support services that we have for this population of students,” Looney said.
Tiffany Wilson, a second-year graduate student and co-chair of the graduate Student Life Committee, noted that graduate student social events try to accommodate all graduate students. Wilson said the events, which the Student Life Committee strives to make appealing to all graduate and professional students, are scheduled at times that are intended to be convenient, including daytime ones where families are welcome.
“Our events are targeted at students first,” Wilson wrote in an email Tuesday. “For example, several weeks ago we provided free food vouchers to graduate and professional students at the Durham Food Truck Rodeo, which is a very family-friendly community event.”
She said they are looking forward to coordinating family programs such as hikes, bike rides and picnics in Durham.
Looney said the graduate school has grappled with the issue of how to assist graduate students who have families over the last decade and a half. She noted that the issue is not limited to Duke but applies nationally.
When looking to peer institutions for ideas in 2008, Looney named several Ivy League schools but noted Princeton University as the school with the most “comprehensive model” to accommodate graduate student parents.
“Princeton’s policies were doing more than just accommodating students—there were additional support services that were provided,” Looney said.
Looney emphasized the importance of the current policies in place. She noted that 46 percent of the Ph.Ds awarded in the U.S. in 2011 were women.
“The services we provide are very consistent with the changing demographic in graduate education,” she said.