UNIVERSITY PARK – The 14-member Presidential Task Force on Child Care at Penn Statehas finished its work examining the operations of all University-affiliated child care centers and is getting set to turn over its report to University President Rodney Erickson.
In a meeting Tuesday (Dec. 17) to update the president, task force members previewed their findings and indicated the report was nearly complete, but did require some last-minute additions and fact checking. The report urges the administration to enhance support — financial and otherwise — for its University-supported child care operations in order to maintain high-quality offerings for Penn State students, faculty and staff.
Erickson in October charged the task force, composed of a broad spectrum of parents, faculty, staff and administrators from across the University, with studying the operations, policies, quality and affordability of Penn State child care. The group was asked to identify common concerns, define responsibilities and help coordinate policies across the University, as well as benchmark Penn State’s child care arrangements against those of public peer institutions.
“We are putting the finishing touches on our findings and will present the report to the president just after the winter break,” said task force Chair Jacqueline Edmondson, associate vice president and associate dean of Undergraduate Education. “This report touches on the creation of oversight policies; looks at adding flexibility to operations; considers the educational resources available to families, and suggests exploring different models and cost structures.”
Edmondson stressed that Penn State is a national leader in early childhood research and teaching, as well as in providing on-campus child care services. She said the study is aimed at allowing Penn State to remain in that position, as well as helping to respond to the needs of Penn State’s communities across the Commonwealth.
“We want to continue to ensure that what is offered to our community is high-quality child care,” she said. “First and foremost what we found – which was not surprising – is that the Penn State community cares deeply about not only care, but the education of its young children.”
The preliminary report, according to Edmondson, points out that parents expect more than just “day” care for their children, they expect education and a level of learning and development that a University setting can offer.
To collect its findings, the task force conducted a survey of parents and administrators at Penn State, held open discussions at University Park, Commonwealth Campuses and via Polycom, and visited Penn State child care facilities at various campuses. The task force not only looked internally at Penn State’s own operations, but also at peer institutions and their child care offerings.
Through benchmarking, the task force discovered that peer universities are addressing similar issues and concerns, including:
— child care staff turnover;
— coordination of child care services;
— a need for an advisory board to oversee and provide counsel;
— a need to expand on-campus child care services; and
— growing costs to the University in providing childcare services.
In a review of peer institution budgets, most university child care centers are subsidized with direct financial support from their university – including Penn State. The report also notes that, for Penn State, there is no data on the economic impact or benefits that child care brings to the University. The inconsistent and incomplete information related to financial issues tied to child care creates a problem in long-range planning for childcare centers on campus. The establishment of a unified system for reporting budgets has been suggested in the preliminary report’s recommendations.
The task force was established partially as a response to a March 2011 University Core Council report in which an assessment of Penn State’s child care centers was advocated. The task force also was created to address concerns raised about Penn State’s proposed planto shift management of the Bennett Family Child Care Center at University Park to an outside firm. The question of who should manage the University’s child care operations at University Park is being addressed in the report and a recommendation from the task force will be provided, according to Edmondson.
“The administration will receive this report and will have to analyze the findings and the recommendations to determine what is in the best interests of Penn State and its community,” Edmondson said. “We hope the findings of this report and our initial recommendations help to affirm and continue Penn State’s leadership in this important area.”
The preliminary report will be available to the public online by mid-January when the University community returns from winter break.