Nontraditional student family pursues path to degrees with help of family, friends, UAB

A UAB-funded child care grant allows one family to pursue their dreams of a college education.

CCAMPIS3The Benko family is pursuing their dreams of a college education. The CCAMPIS grant is providing the family with funding for childcare.On Christmas Eve of 2018, Amanda and Ryan Benko received the greatest gift — acceptance into the University of Alabama at Birmingham Child Care Access Means Parents in School program. This meant the Benko family would receive funds to help keep their son in day care and continue toward their dreams of both having a bachelor’s degree.

“Over the past three years, our family has experienced a lot of hardships, especially when my husband and I lost our jobs at the same time when the company we worked for closed, all while I was six months’ pregnant,” said Benko, a Hoover, Alabama, resident. “At that point, my husband and I were both unemployed and trying to find a way to support our growing family. We realized how important a college education was.”

Benko applied and received a position in the UAB Financial Aid Office as an office associate. She decided to go back to school using UAB’s educational assistance program to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the School of Public Health. She dreams of one day teaching with the school.

Her husband is currently a senior, pursuing a degree in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Computer Science as a full-time student. His goal is to pursue a career in research computing.  

To learn more about the CCAMPIS grant, click here.

“Some days, it can be tough,” Benko said. “I’m constantly juggling a full-time job, full-time college career and an active 2-year-old boy and supporting my husband, who is in college full time. Right now, we are just trying to make the best of things and make ends meet.”

The past five semesters have not been easy for their family. Benko has taken as many as 21 hours in one semester, and her husband has done the same. They have had classes together, affording them the opportunity to be study partners. Both have maintained an A/B average.

“Studying has been a priority for both of us; but sometimes, the day-to-day just gets in the way,” Benko said. “With the CCAMPIS program, we have more options to help us get through the busy parts of the semester, like mid-terms and finals.”

The CCAMPIS program provides funds and resources to allow nontraditional, low-income college students — who are also parents — access to high-quality child care in the UAB Child Development Center.

CCAMPIS2Amanda and Ryan Benko are full time students pursuing bachelor's degrees. Their son attends the UAB Child Development Center while they are in class and working thanks to the funding from an institutional grant. “Birmingham, as a community, needs to expand access to quality child care, particularly for low-income parents,” said Emily Wykle, project director in the UAB Office of the President. “The CCAMPIS program helps UAB break down the barriers to child care access and increase the community’s capacity to provide this service to low-income families, while supporting some of our most vulnerable students as they work toward completing their degrees.”

Benko and her husband have taken full advantage of the program offerings, and often take their son to the extra days of child care provided by the program. This allows them a few extra hours to study for their important tests.

“At UAB we strive to provide opportunities for all of our students to obtain a world class education, regardless of their socioeconomic status,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “We know that this education will change their lives and their family’s lives forever. This CCAMPIS program is an example of how we are intentionally designing student support to reflect the diverse needs of our student body.”

The financial situation for Benko’s family has significantly improved due to the access provided by the CCAMPIS program. Their family went from surviving on a few hundred dollars a month to not having to worry about what they are going to eat for dinner each night. The funds provided to help care for their son allow more room in their budget for necessities beyond child care. 

“We have really had to rely on our family and friends during this time,” Benko said. “They have supported us in every aspect of our lives, including housing, food, keeping our son and beyond. Because of this program, we are able to do a little more on our own and continue to pursue our dreams of successful careers with college degrees.”