President responds to child care recommendations from task force

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Following careful review with University leaders, Penn State President Rodney Erickson has agreed with a number of changes to child care on campus, including placing oversight of operations with the Office of Human Resources and providing additional funds for researchers, benchmarking and lower-income family support.

In addition, the president also decided that the child care centers at University Park — the Bennett Family Center and the Child Care Center at Hort Woods — would continue their operations for a set period of time with the current providers and staffing in place. Erickson is responding to a series of five findings spelled out in a 93-page January report, created by a Presidential Task Force on Child Care at Penn State that he commissioned in October 2013.

"The University is supportive of the need for high-quality child care and in having the most qualified teachers. These findings and recommendations will improve the resources available," Erickson said. "This task force truly embraced my charge of not creating a “one-size fits all” approach. A number of the recommendations will require ongoing conversations to find the right management and oversight structure, policies and an effective advisory structure — which will all translate into high-quality child care for our faculty, staff and students."

The five findings and recommendations that Erickson responded to in a March 14 letter include:

Finding 1: The Penn State community cares about the care and education of young children. Erickson said as a national leader in early childhood education, the University would explore the creation of additional faculty lines in early childhood education and stand ready to partner with various units to cost-share on additional faculty lines.

Finding 2: Penn State parents are mostly satisfied with services, but needs do exist across the University, particularly for students who are parents. To this finding, Erickson said the University would conduct extensive benchmarking of other institutions to find options related to cost structure, flexible hours and assistance for lower-income families. In addition, the development of a Web-based educational resource site will be launched and child care needs at all campuses will be explored and evaluated.

Finding 3: Institutionalize attention to child care needs for Penn State families. Erickson acknowledged the need to coordinate child care activities at Penn State and will establish the position of director situated in the Office of Human Resources to oversee child care operations for the University. In noting the new position, the president said: "We continue to believe that the oversight of child care facilities and operations are not appropriately placed in the academic colleges that are not well equipped to deal with the frequently changing requirements of operating child care facilities."

Finding 4: Peer institutions are addressing similar issues and concerns. Erickson agreed, but wanted to ensure that any past work on the topic by peer institutions was not overlooked and that Penn State expand upon findings and take a leadership role. The benchmarking data Erickson said will be collected "will be invaluable to the University in helping to explore various financial and operating models and to

Finding 5: Future management of Bennett Family Center and the Child Care Center at Hort Woods (University Park) needs to be determined as soon as possible.

This recommendation was a bit more complex and requires further study, according to both Erickson and the Task Force report. Initially, there was a proposed plan by Penn State to shift management of the Bennett Family Child Care Center at University Park to an outside firm, Hildebrandt Learning Centers. One of the concerns expressed by parents was the firm's ability to keep salaries and benefits for child care workers competitive, without impacting the quality of care.

A contract with outside provider Hildebrandt is already in place at Hort Woods for an additional two years, and the University intends to honor the terms of its contract. "It is Hildebrandt’s prerogative to establish its own business model with respect to the salaries and benefits the company provides for its own employees. The University will continue its discussions with Hildebrandt officials to encourage the company to provide compensation packages that will attract and retain high quality early childhood educators and staff."

The president said that until June 30, 2016, the University will continue to operate the Bennett Family Center as it has in the past with its staff remaining Penn State employees, although oversight responsibilities will shift from the College of Health and Human Development to the Office of Human Resources as the director of child care programs position is established. The current staff of Hort Woods who are University employees will remain Penn State employees throughout the remainder of the Hildebrandt contract.

Over the course of the next two fiscal years, further discussions will occur concerning the provision of child care and early education services on all Penn State campuses, Erickson said. 

"The discussions should include a wide range of issues, including the pros and cons of University- or contractor-operated facilities, including the implications of changes for quality and affordability," the president said. Erickson charged Senior Vice President David Gray, in collaboration with the Office of Human Resources, to oversee the data collection, cost accounting, monitoring and benchmarking processes that would be needed to make the best decisions about the University’s future approach to child care, before mid-2016.

"The University administration has been instrumental over the years in ensuring that Penn State provides high-quality child care for its students, staff and employees, and President Erickson's response to the task force report continues that important value," said Jacqueline Edmondson, associate vice president and associate dean of Undergraduate Education, who served as chair of the 14-member task force. "Penn State truly has been a leader among its peers with regard to providing on campus child care, and it is clear we will be well-poised to continue to provide leadership in this area moving forward thanks to the efforts and dedication of the task force members and the administration."

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Last Updated March 17, 2014