Affordable childcare is a problem for many parents who wish to go back to school to finish their education.
Colorful paintings decorate the walls of the Wee Care Center, an apt backdrop for the children playing with toys while their parents are at school.
Nine years ago, Turning Point, the on-campus Personal and Career Center for both the university and community, recognized a need for childcare services targeting single mothers attending school. It was because of this need that Carol Verbecky, Turning Point’s senior director, successfully applied for a Campus Grant to fund the center.
Wee Care mirrors the motto from the 2005 children’s film, ROBOTS: “See a need, fill a need.”
At its current site, state childcare regulations limit Wee Care to 60 children in the building at any given time. As part of the grant’s terms, 10 percent of the capacity is reserved for children of faculty, staff and university employees.
This semester 123 children are enrolled, representing between 96 and 100 families.
As the university faces expansions and growth in nearly every facet of its operation, Wee Care is facing a new need of its own. With so many students enrolling in classes, especially non-traditional students with children, the facilities at the center cannot meet the demand for their services.
“There is such a need out there with the economy the way it is,” said Mary Ellen Larsen, director of the Wee Care Center.
“Without Wee Care I wouldn’t be able to attend school.”
– Michelle Miller, single mother
According to Larsen, children are accepted according to need. In keeping with the center’s original mission, single parents are given first priority and all parents must be low-income families that are eligible for Pell Grants. Still, Larsen said, they had to turn students away out of constraints imposed by the size of the building.
“When we have somebody come and there is no way we are able to help them because all the spaces are full, then we refer them to Childcare Resource Referral here on campus,” said Larsen. “It’s a collaboration.”
Servicing the needs of the students is the entire focus of Wee Care. “That’s our goal, to get the students in and graduated,” said Larsen.
But the limitations they face hinder Wee Care’s capacity to fulfill that goal.
As the university is expanding capacities in other areas such as a new parking structure and student wellness center, serious considerations need to take place over childcare expansion as well.
A recent study conducted by the university already came to the conclusion that there is a strong need for more childcare opportunities on campus, particularly for university staff.
Student concerns over parking are obviously visible, but driving a car to campus is a luxury when there are other travel options available. A single mother may not be able to attend school at all if she is unable to find an adequate childcare provider.
Take Michelle Miller, a sophomore and a single mother. As she dropped her child off, she said “Without Wee Care I wouldn’t be able to attend school.”
“The dream would be a brand new building, and it costs a lot of money,” said Larsen. “Luckily we have people that believe in it, the need, and so we’re trying to look at all different kinds of options, to meet the need without also having to wait 10 years to get a building that’s going to cost $2 million.”
According to Jim Michaelis, associate vice president over facilities, administrators are looking at the cost and logistics of a new childcare center, though no definite plans are on the table.
Students and employees need the services that the Wee Care Center provides, more than its capacity can legally handle. The university must seriously consider expanding childcare services to meet demand as soon as they are able.