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WCC Axes On-Campus Childcare Center

WCC has permanently closed the Children’s Center, the college’s on-campus childcare facility. Prior to COVID-19, the service operated on campus continuously since 1968. Like all other state-licensed childcare facilities, the Children’s Center closed last March. Unlike all other state-licensed childcare facilities, the Children’s Center did not re-open last March, when the Governor lifted the order requiring their closure.

By itself, that’s fine. WCC’s Children’s Center provided care for children while their parents were in classes. So naturally, when the campus closed, the Children’s Center closed along with it.

For those who were hoping for a different outcome, I’m sorry to say that the decision is non-negotiable. The justification the closure that EVP Linda Blakey offered at the Board Retreat is sloppy, at best. To characterize the closure as “an opportunity” is smarmy. It is not really an opportunity for the students who depended on the Children’s Center for childcare. It’s certainly not an opportunity for the 15 employees who just lost their jobs. And the plan the Administration put together to subsidize childcare for students is literally ludicrous. That’s the nicest way I can say that.

The crux of the Administration’s justification for closing the center is its cost. $1.3M in expenses over $100,000 in revenues annually. The Children’s Center operates at a loss of $1.2M. That’s an interesting number, by the way. Purely by coincidence, I’m sure, that’s this year’s debt service on the Health and Fitness Center. (What are the odds of that?)

How To Provide Childcare, by People Who Don’t Have Children

If the Children’s Center operated at a loss in 2019, then it has always operated at a loss. But that should be OK, since turning a profit was never the purpose of the Children’s Center. Its purpose was to support students while they studied. The Administration is only raising its P/L status right now because it is the most expedient way to justify taking the program’s space. (As long as we’re talking about P/L, the College turned a profit of $3M this year.)

The College has – through various means – subsidized student costs at the Children’s Center to the tune of about $40,000 per year. So here is the ridiculous part of the plan to subsidize off-campus childcare. The Administration plans to increase the childcare subsidy to $200,000. I kind of feel like I should embed the “One million dollars” Dr. Evil meme from Austin Powers here, because frankly, $200,000 is very modest drop in a very large bucket.

My son is graduating from WCC this year. In 2004, we put my son in full-time daycare. At that time, a full-time daycare slot for a toddler was nearly $1,000 per month. I paid more for my son to attend daycare full time than I would have paid for him to attend the University of Michigan. That is the reality of daycare costs. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $1,400 today. Only, that’s not what daycare costs in Michigan. As it turns out, Michigan has one of the highest daycare costs in the nation. As in 20%-of-the-average-household-income high.

On-demand childcare is hard to come by

So, the other part that is completely disconnected from reality is WCC will subsidize daycare costs for students only while they attend class. And WCC will subsidize only state-licensed daycares.

Daycares have staffing requirements. They need to know how many kids they’re watching and when because they’re licensed by headcount. At a licensed daycare, parents can get full-time slots and part-time slots. For the most part, drop-in for kids under 5 is a problem. Many daycares don’t even do drop-in. It’s a logistical nightmare. So while WCC can subsidize daycare only while a student is in class, the student might end up paying for full days of daycare, because that’s the only care that’s available.

$200,000 is not nearly enough to subsidize daycare costs for the students who had been using the Children’s Center. Subsidizing on-demand daycare on a large scale is not realistic due to non-availability. No one on the Board even bothered to ask about how the closure might affect the Futures for Frontliners and Reconnect Michigan students who may have selected WCC because of its on-campus childcare. And the sad part is that student-parents who can’t afford or can’t find childcare simply won’t enroll.

That’s WCC’s commitment to student success.

Photo Credit: Michael_Swan , via Flickr