Access to childcare improves, still has room to grow

For the third time, Portland State’s Helen Gordon Child Development Center was awarded the $1.5 million Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools grant last October. The CCAMPIS grant will be distributed to student parents between the 2014 and 2018 academic years.

The CCAMPIS grant is available for undergraduate students using an accredited on or off-campus institution. HGCDC meets the accreditation and accepts CCAMPIS-eligible student parents. The grant subsidizes 30 to 50 percent of childcare tuition, allows HGCDC to hire two graduate teaching assistants and buys supplies for the school.

“The CCAMPIS grant must be connected to an academic program, and ours is the Master’s in Early Child Education,” said Will Parnell, associate professor in the Department of Education and head of the CCAMPIS grant.

Parnell said the CCAMPIS grant invites PSU to discuss opening a new center and increasing funding to student parents.

Student parent resources

Twenty percent of PSU students have children. With three on-campus childcare centers and two university-based assistance programs available to student parents, thousands cannot take advantage of those resources.

HGCDC Director Ellie Justice said, “I do think we need to have another full-sized childcare [center] on campus, but it’s daunting in terms of finding funding, planning and space. We need both infant and toddler care, both full-day and flexible on campus.” For now, student parents must make do with the resources available.

Justice is involved with the Resource Center for Students with Children to increase the accessibility to affordable childcare. The RCSC provides students with children resources to secure childcare. They also distribute funding to offset childcare costs for undergraduate and graduate students.

“I feel like since [RCSC] came into being, the resources for students with children have really grown exponentially,” said Lisa Wittorff, director of the RCSC.

Each year the RCSC gains more support from the Student Fee Committee and the university.

“Their resources are developing and growing. The Student Fee Committee has been supportive of a lot of things that we proposed, but I don’t always feel like the faculty necessarily understands or cares about the needs of student parents,” Wittorff said.

Even with their dedication, PSU cannot support the 6,000 student parents on campus.

On-campus childcare options

HGCDC is a full day, National Association for the Education of Young Children accredited facility that cares for 200 children. The school accepts the Jim Sells subsidy and CCAMPIS grant. It does have a wait list, but it moves quickly.

“We found that our wait lists at Helen Gordon are not as long as they were in the past, but we still have an undersupply of infant care on campus,” Justice said.

The center caters to students, faculty and staff. Thirty percent of those children belong to faculty and staff. The center is a teaching tool for students across academic fields at PSU.

“Our aim is to run a fully developed program for children by providing an educational on-campus program,” Justice said.

Little Vikings in Stephen Epler Hall provides flexible drop-in care for student parents. The center cares for 15 children. Children can attend for up to four hours per day and 12 hours per week. Students pay hourly and it’s cheaper if they reserve care online with at least a 48-hour notice.

The original model permitted four infants, but the need for infant care has changed the center’s capacity.
“Little Vikings has already expanded to accommodate eight infants, not four, to provide flexible infant care to the parents,” Justice said.

Little Vikings helps students when they have to be somewhere or attend class, yet for many students with long classes, the drop-in center isn’t an option.

“We need another full-time center for students because 12 hours per week isn’t feasible for any student,” Parnell said.Parnell felt that Little Vikings is a good start to increase on-campus childcare.

Catered to students’ schedules and funded by the Student Incidental Fee, the Associated Students of PSU Children’s Center located in the Smith Memorial Student Union offers care to children ranging from six weeks to school-age.

Justice confirmed the ASPSU Children’s Center now has several spots open for families with young toddlers.
“The Children’s Center has two classrooms [with] high-quality childcare, [and] there’s a measured flexibility of care at the Children’s Center. Student parents can choose anywhere from eight hours to 40 hours a week of care,” Justice said.

When on-campus care is unavailable, the RCSC helps students locate off-campus childcare. Wittorff and RCSC staff help students find childcare that takes subsidy and grant payments.

“We have lists and help them look at schools for their kids,” Wittorff said. She holds informal interviews with students to find out what style of care they need.

PSU’s childcare capacity is comparable to other Oregon universities, including Oregon State University. OSU childcare and family resource director, Amy Luhn, estimated that OSU’s student population consists of approximately 7 percent student parents. In addition to corporately contracted preschool and kindergarten programs, the OSU campus has one childcare center and two child drop-off sites.

“We have one campus childcare center right now, and we’re working on a second that will open in 2016,” Luhn said. “The NAEYC licensed childcare center serves student, faculty and staff with 148 slots for children.”
In addition, the drop-off sites can host a mixture of 16 infants and children.

Luhn said that these services are offered below market price, and many students take advantage of a childcare subsidy program.

“Our childcare subsidy fund is one our most impressive funds. That’s funded by student fees,” Luhn said. “Last year we served around 80 students via our childcare subsidy programs and about almost half of those were graduate students.”

Childcare funding limited

A 2013 Child Care Aware of America report named Oregon as the least affordable state for childcare. Single parents spend 61.6 percent and couples spend 18.6 percent of their income on childcare.

PSU students pay $10,000 to $14,000 annually in childcare. PSU has two financial assistance programs to subsidize childcare costs, including the CCAMPIS grant.

In addition to the CCAMPIS grant, the Jim Sells Subsidy covers up to 50 percent of on and off-campus childcare tuition. Last year, Wittorff succeeded in appealing to the SFC to increase funds for the Jim Sells Subsidy to roughly $550,000.

“The childcare cost keeps going up and up, and how much student fees are given to centers keeps going up and up, but the cost for the student is not going down. And to me, there should be a direct correlation there, as student fees are to support students. There should be a direct benefit to the student,” Wittorff said.

The Jim Sells subsidy covers tuition bills and cannot be used by centers to hire more staff or increase salaries. The subsidy is available to all student parents.

Student parents can find more information about childcare centers and funding at the RCSC located in the SMSU, room 462.