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Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., speaks at a press conference ahead of House votes on H.R. 7027 - the Child Care Is Essential Act and H.R. 7327 - the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo) Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., speaks at a press conference ahead of House votes on H.R. 7027 - the Child Care Is Essential Act and H.R. 7327 - the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo)

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., speaks at a press conference ahead of House votes on H.R. 7027 - the Child Care Is Essential Act and H.R. 7327 - the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo)

Sophie Austin
By Sophie Austin August 6, 2020

Comparing the price of child care with college tuition

If Your Time is short

  • Sánchez did not specify a timeframe for her child care comparison.

  • Nationwide, the average annual cost of a four-year institution, including tuition, fees, room and board  is more than the price of center-based care for an infant, toddler or 4-year-old.

In a July 29 press conference, Rep. Linda Sánchez of California joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats to show support for child care legislation to help businesses and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The average cost of child care in this country is more than what it costs to send a child to college for one year," Sánchez said at the press conference. Later that day, the House passed two bills to provide funding to child care providers.

Sánchez did not specify what timespan she was referring to for child care spending, and her spokesperson did not respond for comment. 

We found that child care certainly isn’t cheap, and depending on how you count it, it can cost nearly as much as a year of college. But, in most cases, in a year-to-year comparison, a year of college costs more.

Child care industry jolted by pandemic

Like many things during the pandemic, the already complicated landscape of child care has become even more difficult for families amid shutdowns. 

At some point during the pandemic, half of child care programs closed, and, according to a July National Association for the Education of Young Children survey, about 40% of child care providers say they will close permanently if they don’t receive additional assistance from the government.

Half of infants and toddlers and 63% of 3- to 5-year-olds were in nonparental child care in 2012, according to a 2016 survey by the Health and Human Services Department and the University of Chicago.

The Cares Act, a congressional COVID-19 relief package passed in March, provided the child care industry with $3.5 billion. The Child Care Is Essential Act, which Sánchez co-sponsored, would allocate $50 billion in grants to child care providers. 

Comparing price of child care to college

A 2019 report by Child Care Aware of America, an advocacy group that provides families with child care resources, found the average price of center-based infant, toddler and 4-year-old care in each state and D.C. 

PolitiFact’s analysis of the group’s numbers found that the nationwide median price of infant care is $11,107 annually. That figure falls to $10,267 for toddlers and $8,834 for 4-year-olds.

By comparison, in 2017-18, the average price of tuition, fees, room and board for all four-year colleges — including public and private institutions — was $27,357, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Clearly, that’s more than what families nationwide average for one year of child care for an infant, toddler or a 4-year-old.

If you look only at four-year public colleges, the total cost drops to $20,050 for a year on average, according to Education Department figures. That’s still more than the median price of one year of center-based infant, toddler or 4-year-old child care. 

We should note that these college and child care figures don’t take financial assistance into account. In addition, many families depend on child care outside of centers, including through a family member or trusted friend.

To be sure, there are instances when a year of child care can cost more than a year of college tuition, particularly in-state tuition for public universities. But Sánchez wasn’t that precise in her claim. 

Our ruling

"The average cost of child care in this country is more than what it costs to send a child to college for one year," Sánchez said.

The nationwide median annual price of infant, toddler and 4-year-old care is much less expensive than the nationwide average of a year at a four-year college. However, a year of center-based child care is more expensive than a year of in-state public college tuition in many states.

Sánchez did not specify a timeframe for her comparison. If she meant to compare the annual price of a four-year college to the amount families pay for a year of infant, toddler or 4-year-old center-based care, then her statement is incorrect. However, comparing the price of college to the price of child care over the course of a child’s lifetime would show a different picture.

We rate Sánchez’s statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

Rev, Speaker Nancy Pelosi Press Conference Transcript July 29: Child Care Economic Relief, July 29, 2020

American Academy of Pediatrics, COVID-10 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry, accessed Aug. 3, 2020

Email interview with Christine Johnson-Staub, child care and early education senior policy analyst of the Center for Law and Social Policy, Aug. 1, 2020

Email interview with W. Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, July 31, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Supplemental Guidance for Child Care, July 23, 2020

National Center for Education Statistics, Tuition costs of colleges and universities, accessed July 31, 2020

Economic Policy Institute, The cost of child care in, July 2019

Child Care Aware of America, The US And The High Price of Child Care, 2019

Center for American Progress, Working Families Are Spending Big Money on Child Care, June 20, 2019

Congress.gov, Child Care is Essential Act, May 27, 2020

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