On-Campus Childcare: Building a Better Work-Life Balance

Winter 2019-20
Christopher Dominiak

“Does the childcare center have a good reputation?”

“Are they qualified to care for my child?”

“What will it cost?”

These questions, among others, fill the minds of parents preparing to return to work after the birth of a child. One way several institutions are helping alleviate the stresses involved in choosing a childcare provider is by providing on-campus childcare. On-campus childcare has been proven to help working parents better focus on their work, boost the productivity of employees with young children and promote a healthy work-life balance.

While some organizations may picture dollar signs when thinking about introducing on-campus childcare as an employee benefit, the benefits often offset the cost.

Benefits

On-site childcare can …

  • help reduce employee absenteeism and tardiness by cutting out drop-off, pick-up and out-of-the-way commutes;
  • increase productivity, engagement and morale among employees;
  • be used as a recruitment and retention tool;
  • encourage employees to return to work sooner after the birth of a child;
  • promote work-life balance;
  • allow employees to check on their children throughout the day and allow breastfeeding mothers access to their children;
  • frame the institution as an employer of choice;
  • make the institution eligible for state and federal tax credits;
  • increase retention of students with children and increase on-time graduation rates.

Student Involvement

Beyond the scope of potential benefits and challenges, consider how the center can bring more to the institution by doubling as a research laboratory, early childhood education site or internship provider where students in child-related studies can gain teaching experience.

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Early Learning Center is affiliated with the Department of Child and Family Studies and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The center has received academic support from more than 100 students enrolled in child and family studies disciplines, such as audiology, speech pathology, nursing, psychology and special education. The center has undergone multiple research studies on topics such as nutrition, literacy, physical activity and teaching experiences.

Visit https://elc.utk.edu/ to learn more about UTK’s Early Learning Center.

Challenges

The prospect of on-campus childcare may seem like a no-brainer once you’ve considered the potential benefits for the institution, employees and students. However, institutions must first decide if the venture is worth the financial investment, time commitment and liability, and what rules and stipulations to put in place.

Institutions must first decide if the venture is worth the financial investment, time commitment and liability, and what rules and stipulations to put in place.

Cost

On-site childcare doesn’t mean free childcare. Costs will fall to the institution (if it’s provided as an employee benefit) or employees who utilize the service (if its purpose is to bring in revenue).

Space and Furnishings

Is there indoor and outdoor space currently available for a childcare facility? If so, does it meet licensing requirements, state regulations and fire department codes? Does the space include access to restrooms and a kitchen? If space isn’t available, will a facility be built? Don’t forget to take into account fire safety, building codes, zoning and environmental health. Once space has been determined, furnishings, toys, snacks and cleaning supplies still need to be stocked on an ongoing basis.

Hours of Operation

What will the hours of operation be? This is dependent on employee work schedules, which are dependent on the needs of the institution. Some employees may arrive at the office early in the morning and some may leave later in the evening. How will this affect hours?

Staffing

Background checks must be performed on all childcare staff members. An alternative to traditional staffing could be partnering with students in child-related studies. Students could work at the center to earn internship hours and gain teaching experience.

Liability

An institution’s liability increases when all-day infant or toddler care is offered, and this may result in higher insurance premiums.

Building and Child Security

This includes thorough incident- reporting processes, background checks, hiring qualified workers,  installing security technology around campus, making employees aware of who is coming in and out of the facility, and training facility staff for emergencies.

Tension Among Staff

Employees who don’t have children may see childcare benefits as unfair treatment, which could create tension among employees. The flip side to this is that employees without children could benefit indirectly from reduced absenteeism and tardiness of colleagues with children.

Other Considerations

Before any business idea is set in motion, leaders must first assess the needs of the target demographic. In the case of on-campus childcare, you may find that there are working parents at your institution who prefer the daycare where their children are currently enrolled, or maybe the size of your institution isn’t favorable for the venture. Creating enrollment restrictions and payment options are also of utmost importance.

Solicit Interest

Has on-campus childcare been explicitly expressed as a growing need among employees? Consider sending out a survey to gauge interest.

Enrollment Regulations

How many children per employee can be enrolled? What is the age cut-off? Will the service be provided to single parents only or dual-career households as well?

Payment Options

What payment options exist? Will income-based rates be available? Will rates be higher for dual-income households? What about dual-income households with multiple children enrolled?

Institution Size

Is the size of your institution conducive to a childcare facility? Large campuses may be more open to the idea, while small campuses may not support it due to lack of size or interest.

A Tailored Fit

On-campus childcare is not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are multiple ways to bring this service to or modify it to fit your institution. As with any business decision, the institution must determine what level of risk it is willing to invest in on-campus childcare.

If your institution isn’t ready to take the leap to on-campus childcare services, consider other options for childcare. The University of Arizona offers sick and back-up childcare programs for their parent-employees. As a part of The University of Arizona’s Life and Work Connections, the Sick and Back-Up Childcare Program offers sick and emergency back-up care for employees eligible for full benefits and students currently enrolled in undergraduate and graduate studies. The program is subsidized by the university, and eligible participants can use the service 10 days per year. The service is applicable when children are sick and unable to attend school or childcare and when there is an unscheduled interruption in regular school and/or childcare arrangements.

Starting From Scratch

On-campus childcare is undoubtedly a massive undertaking. This isn’t a service that can be devised and built within a short period of time. However, if you want stakeholders at your institution to seriously consider the idea, the first step is to start conversations around it. Identify those who will use the service, set up an interest meeting, and compile and share a list of benefits and business models — but be prepared to offer ideas and solutions to the concerns that will no doubt be raised. If your institution cannot support an all-day service, present alternatives, such as sick and back-up childcare. No matter the service level, any form of institution-provided childcare promotes the work-life balance that is not always present in today’s workplace.


What Level of Risk Is Your Institution Willing to Invest in On-Campus Childcare?

High-Risk Business Model

Management-Fee Contract: The childcare provider manages operations and performs day-to-day functions in exchange for a management fee that covers administrative costs. The institution has a direct say in rates, hours of operation and salaries. Revenue will be returned to the institution and deficits will be charged back to the institution. The institution assumes all financial risk and reward.

Medium-Risk Business Model

Profit and Loss: The childcare provider performs day-to-day management and covers operational losses and retains excess revenue. The institution’s financial responsibilities are limited to providing space (existing space or building a facility), building insurance and utilities, providing adequate parking, and maintaining the building, grounds and furnishings. The childcare provider could cover start-up costs while the institution commits to full reimbursement over time.

Low-Risk Business Model

Tuition Discounts or Preferred Provider: The institution provides financial support or guaranteed enrollment at a nearby facility.

 


 

About the author: Christopher Dominiak is manager, benefits systems & administration at The University of Arizona and a 2018-19 CUPA-HR Wildfire Program participant.

 

The CUPA-HR national office will be closed July 4 in observance of Independence Day.