by Jamie Leigh Broten
Since the recession of 2008-09, budget cuts have been made across the board, and states all over the country lost significant portions of funding for, among other things, childcare. The Child Development Center (CDC) at Whatcom Community College was closed in spring quarter of 2010 due to financial issues when the program was not self-sustaining as it was intended to be.
Sally Holloway, a faculty member at Whatcom that specializes in Early Childhood Education said that the lack of funding for childcare facilities “is not unique to Whatcom, it’s a national issue.”
She added that at Whatcom, the CDC had been a subsidized program, and was no longer seen as primary to the college’s mission. “We know there are other demands, it has been an administrative decision,” said Holloway.
When Whatcom came to the decision to close the childcare facility on campus, the college had already sustained $1.2 million in state budget cuts, and was estimating another $650,000 for 2011 according to a statement Trish Onion, vice president for educational services at Whatcom, sent out about the CDC closing. These budget cuts affected the funding supporting the CDC according to the statement.
“Whatcom Community College has stayed committed to the CDC despite its unstable fiscal position for many years,” Onion wrote in the letter. “The closure will impact 26 students, 16 employees and 33 community members whose families currently utilize child care services at Whatcom on a full- or part-time basis, as well as the four regular employees and part-time hourly staff who care for the children. The decision to stop providing childcare services has been very tough. We sincerely regret the impact on the families and employees and are making this announcement now to allow families time to seek out other alternatives.”
Whatcom student Heather Agesen, 26, has been attending the college for seven quarters as a full-time student as well as working part-time and raising her two sons, ages 4 and 5.
“If a childcare facility was available at [Whatcom], I feel I would benefit immensely since this is my main struggle [to find] throughout every quarter,” Agesen said.
She said that if childcare was available on campus, she believes her GPA would “increase dramatically.”
“I have the drive and perseverance to dedicate time to homework and only want to do the best of my abilities, but the constant stress of finding a babysitter can be very overwhelming and take up a lot of valuable time,” Agesen said.
Holloway said that advisors at Whatcom are “childcare aware,” and can provide assistance to students who are in need of a referral to a childcare facility.
Whatcom currently rents out a space in Kelly Hall to the National Opportunity Council, a non-profit organization that helps with student and community member needs through programs such as the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), a preschool program that provides low-income families with childcare.
The program’s requirements are limited, however. It only provides education and childcare for children ages 3 to 4, and is open for around two and a half hours a day, four days a week, September through May, Holloway said. She added that the program may expand to six hours a day in the future.
Holloway said that while it is a state-funded program, it is difficult to get into. Families must meet specific income requirements, and there are waiting lists to be accepted.
According to the Department of Early Learning government website, ECEAP only accepts children from families at or below 10 percent above the poverty line.
Agensen said that she does not meet these income requirements, and because childcare is expensive, her sons do not attend any childcare facility. She said she often hires a babysitter or has family members watch her children while she is at work and school.
“Not every family can afford [childcare],” said Holloway, adding that parents are mostly concerned with two things when looking for childcare – the cost and quality of the program.
Having childcare available for parents and their young children can be crucial to student success, both for children and parents.