Monday, April 10, 2006

Campus Event: Forum on Child Care for the Campus

This forum happened on March 29, 2006. It was one of the events for Women's Month at my campus. In addition to the fact that it was a Women's Month event, we often get students in one of our English classes who pick this issue as a paper topic. The class has to write up a feasibility study to solve some kind of problem, and this topic often springs up. So I figured I would go and see what the official campus positions (administrative) were on the topic as well as just see what I could learn. It was well worth it.

The forum was moderated by one of our social science professors. It featured one of our students, speaking on behalf of students with children, one of our professors who specializes in child development, and two of our vice presidents (the VP of Student Services and the VP of Administration and Finance). I think about 25 or so attended.

The moderator provided a good introduction that gave us a context. He explained that we can look at this issue in terms of an investment. We should ask if students should have such a service in order to facilitate their education. We can also see this as an investment from the state and society where we all benefit. In other words, think of the common good. Would an investment in a child care center have larger benefits?

Our student panelist went on to give a well-reasoned argument in favor of a child care facility. She looked at getting an education in terms of economics (better opportunities) and social reasons. Child care is helpful given scheduling issues. If a student cannot take 12 cerdit hours (a full load), then the financial aid is reduced. Also, it is hard for students with children to be involved in college activities and the academic community. They are often not able to use the computer labs or even meet classmates for collaborative class projects. The student also cited data on poor pay for jobs that do not require a college degree to support her argument. She also pointed out that some community colleges do provide child care facilities; however, community colleges only provide 2-year degrees, and for many people, a 4-year degree is essential. Low income parents need access to education and affordable child care. Additionally, she cited data from research that shows that child care availability can lead to better enrollment and graduation rate figures, which by the way, are issues that concern the local administration (our enrollment has slowed down, and the graduation rate can use some serious work. By the way, I am not saying anything here that is not available as public information or is not common knowledge). Overall, a child care center would benefit the students as well as the campus.

Next came the professor. She provided a good explanation of what may be required and on the needs of children. From a child development perspective, children need stability and consistency. A child care center could be based on whether users work on campus (i.e. they need daily child care) or for students (i.e. are only on campus for classes, would need say half a day). Then, another question is to provide the service on nights and weekends given the campus offers classes at those times as well. On our campus, this would be highly desirable. I know from experience that we have a lot of students who work all day and then come to classes at night; some of them I am sure have to do magic to make sure their children are ok as they go from work to school. The professor also asked what model of child care center would be adopted. She argued, and I have to agree, that we need to avoid a warehouse model (where the kids just eat, sleep, and play). However, do we then want a curriculum-based model? A Montessori school even? The question is not only do we need it, but will we have the best situation for the children as well as the parents. Furthermore, there is need for the center workers to be certified. Could this mean the center could serve as an educational facility to train the lead teachers and care workers as well?

Our VP for Administration and Finance gave some reasons and obstacles to realizing the concept. The center could be tied to the education program (our campus has an Urban Education program), but the program does not currently include an early childhood component. He also pointed out the issue of demand. There are a lot of parents with children, and the demand would easily outstrip the supply, which could lead to waiting lists. Also, what if the students do all the work to set up the facility, only to see it "taken over" by mostly faculty and staff who take up spaces (whether by need or more likely by pressure). Then, there was the question of an operational schedule for the center. Space is another significant issue. Not just campus space, which is extremely limited, but the university does not own land in areas adjacent to the campus (we are in the middle of the city), so property that the campus can acquire or gain access to is limited. Also, note that the cost of a center is likely to be recovered by student fees. Finally, there are liability issues.

Our VP of Student Services added to the conversation. He did mention references to studies that show employees can be more productive if such facilities are provided to those who need it. The danger is that as costs go up, there may be less access who students given their lower incomes. This goes along with the notion of faculty taking up more spaces if they are better able to afford the service. However, there is agreement that space is a major obstacle. Also, the cost recoup coming from student fees may be resented by some students who have no children. It may be possible to seek some federal funding.

The audience had some questions and ideas, such as:
  • Is it possible to make this work with a partnership with a private provider? Maybe, for instance, a discount for students who participate from the private provider? The campus would more likely need to build or provide the space. Our professor suggested that some providers may be willing to build a facility. Or, maybe partnering with an organization. The campus could gain benefit and engage the community this way.
  • While a campus child care center is not a solution to everything, but it would meet student needs. For the slots in the center issue, maybe writing into the charter the percentages (say 60% of spaces have to be for student parents). The constituents in the end need to decide how important this issue is to them.
  • Even a small operation (say, 4 days a week for 4 hours a day) has significant costs in terms of licensing, space, equipment, and supplies. These are things needed before the center becomes operational, then you have staffing of the center. However, it would not be impossible to provide such a facility. The administration needs to hear loud and clear that this issue is priority for students. Clearly, it is not likely to happen soon, but in time, such a facility could be planned into any new campus buildings and construction. Overall, this needs to be planned in the long run.

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