For the first time in more than 25 years, Oregon State University will be opening a new child care center on campus this fall. OSU’s expansion of campus-based child care is in response to ongoing demand from student and employee parents.
The Azalea Child Care Center, which is set to open by Nov. 1, will serve 46 children and will be open to children from early infancy to age 5. It will be located on the first floor of Azalea House on the east end of campus. Enrollment priority will be given to Oregon State students and employees, having a roughly 50/50 split between the two groups. It could potentially be open to community members at some point, but currently there is already a long wait list of Oregon State parents. Azalea House is a former co-operative living space that has recently been transformed into administrative space for several OSU programs.
The path to the new center wasn’t an easy one, said Amy Luhn, director of the Family Resource Center at Oregon State. Back in 2011, student government agreed to use student building funds to assist with creating additional child care which ultimately led to the renovation of the first floor of Azalea House. There was a need then and it only continued to grow. In surveys conducted on campus in 2014 and 2016, one of the overwhelming needs expressed by student and employee parents was access to local, affordable child care. Currently there is one full-time child care center on campus (Beaver Beginnings), as well as a part-time preschool at the Child Development Center/Bates Hall, and two small Our Little Village drop-in, short-term child care centers for student parents in Dixon Recreation Center and Valley Library. In addition, KidSpirit offers child care and enrichment programming during non-public school days and throughout the summer months.
In 2016 when the first-floor renovation of Azalea House was complete, Luhn and her team sought financial support from the university, which was necessary to draw a provider to campus. The President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCOSW) championed the cause, as did associate vice provost of University Housing and Dining Dan Larson, and the community group Beavers Have Babies, Dam It. Luhn said there was enough awareness and momentum that university leadership fully recognized the importance of creating additional campus-based child care and responding to the need with funding. To date, the university has pledged $160,000 of general fund operations money for the first year with additional commitments throughout the life of the contract.
“There has been increasing support for child care on campus and a growing recognition of the great need of parents for access to child care,” Luhn said. “Times are changing. We have dual income families and single parents who really need support. Child care isn’t an add-on or a life enhancement. This comes down to ‘I either go to work or class or I can’t.’ We have to keep pace and acknowledge this with increased capacity.”
As is true for most families accessing high quality child care, Luhn recognizes that affordability of campus child care at Azalea will be an obstacle for some parents, especially students. KinderCare’s Beaver Beginnings, the other full-time child care center on campus, partially subsidizes the cost of tuition for OSU staff and students. But the Azalea Child Care Center will be a community market rate center, meaning that tuitions will align more closely with local centers in the Corvallis area.
Luhn and her team intend to address the issue with a combination of approaches. First, through creative use of existing student child care assistance funds, her office anticipates reducing tuition costs for a few student slots across age groups and programs. She also hopes to request Student Success Initiative funds to more directly support undergraduate student parents. Additionally, Luhn wants to increase support for and donations to the OSU Child Care Friend-Raisers endowment, which uses annually generated interest to help offset the cost of child care for OSU employees. Luhn hopes that a combination of approaches will help make access to child care on campus easier and more feasible for parents.
Bright Horizons has been selected as the organization to run the child care center. The company has been a provider of early education and preschools, employer-sponsored child care and back-up care for 30 years. As part of their contract they will be accredited through Oregon’s statewide quality rating and improvement system, Spark http://triwou.org/projects/qris.
While Luhn is extremely relieved to finally be opening a new child care center on campus, she acknowledges that it still doesn’t entirely meet the OSU community need for local child care. She said that the next step is finding the money to renovate and open the second floor of Azalea House for additional classrooms to expand services and create more openings.
“We’re so excited to be partnering with Bright Horizons, because we’re aligned with them philosophically about the optimal approaches and practices of caring for and teaching young children,” Luhn said. “We feel good to be embarking on this new adventure with them, and further supporting the lives of parents studying and working on our campus.”
Parents interested in Azalea Child Care Center can add their names to a waiting list by contacting the Family Resource Center at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Child Care Assistance Programs: http://childcare.oregonstate.edu/child-care-assistance-program.
~ Theresa Hogue