University to expand child care programs
President Mary Sue Coleman has announced a major new commitment to child care services at the University.
While U-M has a long history of providing high-quality programs, Coleman outlined areas for improvement in a memo to the campus community, saying that the University will work toward increasing capacity, developing infant and toddler care, and significantly improving the facilities in which these services are offered.
"I am committed to improving our child care offerings because this effort will have a positive impact on our entire community," Coleman said. "Reliable access to child care services can significantly enhance the ability of faculty, staff and students to pursue their academic and professional goals and to contribute fully to the University. This is an increasingly important dynamic in our efforts to recruit and retain the very best talent."
Planning for this effort will start immediately on several fronts, beginning with an inclusive process to seek out the ideas of community members and groups who are invested in existing child care programs, and in the need for enhanced services.
Coleman has tapped Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources, to direct these efforts.
"I am delighted that President Coleman has committed to supporting access to quality child, infant and toddler care," Thomas says. "The need is clear, and this is an exciting opportunity to expand access to the very best in early childhood education. I look forward to a broad process of listening and idea-sharing to shape our plans for the future."
In its March 2004 report, the Gender in Science and Engineering Committee's Subcommittee on Family Friendly Policies and Faculty Tracks noted that the University was falling behind its peers with respect to policies that support the family needs of faculty, and recommended expanding on-campus childcare services.
"These needs are not limited to junior faculty, or to women, but addressing these needs plays an especially important role in recruiting and retaining outstanding women faculty," the subcommittee wrote.
In addition, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs Child Care Task Force report of October 2004 underscored the importance of child care for women faculty. Citing national and local trends among faculty, the task force noted that child care demands faced by women can create daunting roadblocks to the pursuit of tenurechallenges made all the more formidable when dependable child care is not readily available.
Access to quality child care also has a broad effect on the University work environment. In a study of a large state-supported university, half of the employees reported child care responsibilities affected their work and 57 percent said that their work was impacted by the child care responsibilities of others, the SACUA task force reported. Further, it found that throughout the national workforce, child care problems result in $3 billion in staffing absences each year, a loss that is reduced by 20-30 percent when child care services are made available.
"Students who are parents of young children need access to high-quality, flexible and convenient child care," notes E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs. "We have heard regularly from our student community, particularly among graduate students, about the need to add capacity in order to support student parents."
In 2001, the University's Student Parent Task Force estimated that 20 percent of U-M graduate students and 2 percent of undergraduate students were parents. The University has undertaken a number of efforts since that time to support child care for student parents. U-M secured a four-year, $237,000 U.S. Department of Education grant in 2001 to help undergraduate student parents with child care costs and availability. Through this grant, 12 home-based family child care providers have been recruited and trained so far to provide a capacity of 96 spaces for children in North Campus family housing.
The University also committed $118,000 to the Child Care Tuition Grant Program for eligible students, faculty and staff in that same year, and the Child Care Subsidy Program for eligible students, to which the University committed $933,000 in 2004. In addition, in 2002, the provost committed $450,000 to improve graduate student parents' access to child care.
"Childcare is important to many families in the University community," Provost Paul N. Courant says. "The thoughtful planning process we are beginning will enable the University to expand and improve its services and help many families now and in the future."
Faculty and staff members and students who want to share thoughts about the University's child care services may write to firstname.lastname@example.org.