As Illinois colleges cut childcare for students, SIUE’s center survived. Here’s why.

In the metro-east, there is one university that still offers childcare for its students as other schools across Illinois have stopped providing that service in recent years.

Discounts are often available for college students who use campus-run childcare, and the care can be offered on a part-time basis to work with their class schedules. The facilities are also a training ground for college students who are studying education.

But enrollment declines meant families couldn’t cover the costs to operate them, according to some institutions that cut childcare from their budgets. Most recently, Southwestern Illinois College leaders decided to stop offering childcare on the Belleville campus.

At nearby Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, though, childcare has survived budget cuts.

A closer look at SIUE childcare

Childcare has been around on SIUE’s campus since 1969, when Becky Dabbs-MacLean said a group of students started working in shifts to care for each other’s children.

Dabbs-MacLean, the director of SIUE’s Early Childhood Center, said it’s still around because of support from the administration.

“When student parents cross the stage, it not only changes their life, it changes their children’s lives,” she said. “I think they understand that, you know? And honestly, we tell them all the time. I think over the years, they have come to really value that.”

The facility at 795 Northwest University Drive was built in 1985 and expanded in 2009 because “we’ve always had a waiting list,” according to Dabbs-MacLean.

Even in recent years, the Early Childhood Center hasn’t seen the drop in enrollment that other campus programs have.

Local college student Melody Peterson said childcare factored heavily into her decision as she was transferring from a St. Louis community college. She considered SIUE and a university in Missouri.

“I looked at their early childhood center, and it didn’t even hold a candle to this place,” Peterson said of SIUE’s Early Childhood Center. “And so I chose my university based off the fact that this childhood center was exceptional.”

Meanwhile, SWIC’s childcare service for students, faculty and staff — Kids’ Club — was losing children every year. The enrollment when it closed in 2017 was less than half of what it had been in 2014, according to numbers provided by the college.

Michelle Herrera, who worked as a childcare specialist for Kids’ Club until it closed, said she thinks SWIC didn’t do enough to advertise or promote the service to students who could have used it.

“That’s one reason why our enrollment dropped in the last three to five years,” she said.

SWIC spokesperson Jim Haverstick declined to comment on how the college let students know about Kids’ Club.

The Early Childhood Center’s staff will help parents find financial assistance to pay for childcare through state subsidies and scholarships funded by SIUE graduates and community members, according to Dabbs-MacLean. She thinks that effort has contributed to the consistent enrollment there.

Peterson received one of the local scholarships toward her 2-year-old son Princeton’s care while she is in class at SIUE. She’s studying to become an attorney.

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Melody Peterson and her 2-year-old son Princeton high-five after Melody arrived to pick him up from the SIUE Early Childhood Center. Derik Holtmann

SIUE students are given priority to enroll their children at the Early Childhood Center, but the facility is open to community members, too. Dabbs-MacLean said that has helped when children of students and university employees haven’t filled its classrooms to their capacities.

When needed, Dabbs-MacLean said the staff have found different sources of funding for the Early Childhood Center, including grants.

Four years ago, SWIC was promised a $6.1 million grant from the state to put toward its childcare service by building an early childhood education center on the Belleville campus.

“This early childhood education center investment will increase badly needed services for metro-east families, plus it will create construction jobs for Illinois workers,” then-Gov. Pat Quinn said during a visit to the college in 2014.

But Haverstick, the SWIC spokesperson, said the college didn’t receive the money.

Besides grant money, Herrera said SWIC could have increased the rates for Kids’ Club or raised students’ tuition to provide more money for childcare before cutting the program.

Kids’ Club operated at a deficit that averaged about $67,000 each year for the last five years.

Childcare at other Illinois schools

Some colleges and universities stopped using their money to operate a childcare facility but tried finding other ways to keep the service on campus.

In 2015, Southern Illinois University Carbondale suspended operations at the Child Development Laboratories, one of two childcare facilities on its campus.

The facility reopened the same year with a new funding source, according to Lisa Brown, who works there. She is the director of the Southern Region Early Childhood Programs.

Brown said the Child Development Laboratories operates with state grant money now because it only offers programs for families that meet certain guidelines, including some SIUC students, to help disadvantaged children.

Unlike Rainbow’s End Child Development Center, the other childcare facility at SIUC, none of the funding for the Child Development Laboratories comes from the university or the families that use it.

Farther north, Lake Land College in Mattoon stopped paying for a campus-run service and started renting its childcare facility to a third-party provider from 2013 to 2017. However, since the third-party provider decided to leave the campus last year, Lake Land College has planned a renovation of the vacant building to create offices and a meeting room, college spokesperson Kelly Allee said.

Lewis and Clark Community College’s Godfrey campus is home to Montessori Children’s House, an independently-operated school and daycare where college students can receive a discount.

McKendree University in Lebanon and Lindenwood University-Belleville don’t offer childcare services.

The Illinois Community College Board is aware that some community colleges around the state have closed their childcare facilities, according to spokesperson Matt Berry. But he said the board hasn’t conducted a formal survey.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education doesn’t monitor which colleges and universities offer childcare services either, spokesperson Candace Mueller said.