Oliver Tatom, a paramedic, part-time nursing student and father of two, is on a mission: He wants his school, Central Oregon Community College, to provide on-campus child care.
“For me, (child care expenses) meant putting off applying to nursing school. I didn’t go back to school until I had at least one kid in kindergarten because it was too expensive,” Tatom, 39 said. “For others, it was just an additional source of stress; it was missing class, being late to class.”
As the student president of COCC’s nursing school, Tatom, of Bend, said he feels its his duty to speak for his fellow students, many of whom have also struggled to find child care, a problem felt throughout Central Oregon. His 4-year-old son, Dean, is enrolled at Inspire Early Learning Centers’ east Bend campus, which costs $800 per month.
Beth Rhoades, 34, a mother of four who commutes from Prineville for COCC nursing classes, also had difficulties finding day care. This spring, she finally got her 3-year-old daughter into a facility in Prineville, where she pays $25 per day, but she wishes COCC had its own day care program, like what her sister used at Modesto Junior College in central California.
“I think that would kill two birds with one stone because the kids in the early-education program get hands-on learning,” Rhoades said.
Multiple community colleges in Oregon provide on-campus child care, from big-city schools such as Portland Community College and Chemeketa Community College in Salem, to smaller colleges like Umpqua Community College in Roseburg.
All three use early childhood education students to run the facilities. Oregon State University-Cascades doesn’t have on-campus day care yet, but the Bend university does plan on adding a center as its campus expands, according to its development plan.
COCC’s staff aren’t immune to child care difficulties, either. Justin Koon, 34, works in the college’s information technology department with his wife, and he said they spent 13 months of their son’s first 14 months on a day care wait list. He said COCC hosting its own day care for staff and students “would be a big help.”
The community college has looked into this possibility in the past — in 2012 and 2013, COCC created a task force to look into how it could support students and staff who were parents of young children. The task force’s November 2013 recommendation showed that, in a survey of 411 COCC students, 41.4 percent said finding affordable and reliable child care was “a major barrier to a successful college experience.”
The task force gave COCC six recommendations, ranging from doing nothing to developing an on-campus facility, with a few in-between options such as providing financial assistance for child care.
Alicia Moore, dean of student and enrollment services, said the college was hoping to gather information regarding child care in hopes that COCC would receive a federal grant to launch a child care facility, but that never materialized. Currently, the school offers $25,000 annually that various students split to help with child care costs, with a $600-per-quarter cap per student.
Moore said COCC couldn’t run a child care facility mainly for financial reasons. Each worker would cost the college about $70,000, and just hiring five would result in a $3.50 tuition increase per credit to keep the budget balanced. Furthermore, there isn’t a space on campus that meets state standards for a day care center, including having enough toilets and outdoor access, according to Kara Tachikawa, executive director of Inspire.
Using COCC’s early childhood education students wouldn’t save the school much money, Moore said, because the college would still have to hire staff to supervise them. Furthermore, those students already have relationships with local child care providers and Bend-La Pine Schools, according to Moore.
That leaves the option of having COCC hosting a private company on its campus. This is what Tatom hopes for, pointing out that the Deschutes County offices have a contract with day care provider Munchkin Manor to provide discounted child care for county and state employees in exchange for using the property free of charge.
Moore said this would also be difficult, because students have expressed a desire to drop off and pick up their kids whenever they need to, and classes at COCC run from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., meaning staff would have to be on-site for over 12 hours every school day, compared to a typical 8-to-5 schedule.
Moore said she wishes COCC could provide child care for its students, but it isn’t viable at the moment.
“If I could wave my magic wand and make anything happen, this would be one of three or four areas I’d love to provide additional support, but the reality is we have tough choices we have to make,” she said.
There is one potential solution: the incoming Campus Village retail center, which will be located on COCC’s campus. William Smith Properties developer Peter McCaffrey said construction will begin in 2019, and he hopes that a day care center will be part of the first phase of buildings.
McCaffrey said Inspire is the main child care provider in the mix to potentially open a third location in the Campus Village (it currently has two locations, one near Deschutes Brewery and one near St. Charles Bend). Tachikawa said although she has looked into moving in there, she’s concerned about the high leases that will accompany the site. She said she’s hopeful a deal can be made with COCC to make using a Campus Village location a reality, but she understands that, financially, providing child care is difficult for both parties.
“I think colleges are doing the best they can with what they have, and probably don’t have a huge profit margin either. I think we’re all kind of stuck in a similar place of trying to figure out how to do the best we can with the limited resources we have.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7854, firstname.lastname@example.org