You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

For reasons unknown, I have a history of closed college day-care centers in my wake. Readers of a certain age may remember Angela Lansbury’s character Jessica Fletcher, from Murder, She Wrote; wherever she went, somebody died. After a while, it was a wonder that she ever got invited anywhere. She was never the killer -- although that could make for some amazing fan fiction -- but she was around an awful lot of murders.

I’m the Jessica Fletcher of day-care centers. I don’t kill them, but a lot of them die when I’m around.

The worst, naturally, was DeVry. It had an on-site day care with discounted rates; it closed the month before The Boy was born. It was closed to make room for anticipated enrollment growth that never happened. Enrollment there has been in free fall ever since. I’m not saying it’s karma, but I’m not saying it isn’t, either.

CCM had closed its day care shortly before I arrived. Holyoke had just spun its off, and ended subsidies for it. Brookdale did the same shortly before I got here.

Many years ago, when I was interviewing for a job I didn’t get, I asked the president of that college why it had recently closed its day-care center. He paused, then responded in a measured tone that “a college has to choose where it wants to lose money.” That college was in financial trouble, so it stopped subsidizing day care. That was over a decade ago, but the line stuck with me. A college has to choose where it wants to lose money.

He wasn’t wrong, exactly, but there’s a deeper wrongness to the situation. To the extent that we’ve built systems that see children as burdens, we’re doing something wrong.

I thought of this over the weekend when a couple of articles crashed into each other. The first, from The New York Times, was about low birth rates in the U.S., Denmark and China; the second, from Quartz, was about the positive effects on college completion when colleges provide day care for students’ children.

For colleges to provide that day care, they need economic help. Yes, improved retention and completion will provide some relief, but the increased revenue from that is both lagging and far lower than the cost of providing the service. Day care won’t pay for itself in the short term in a way that shows up on an institutional budget.

The Times piece was frustrating in that it lacked history. It compared three countries’ birth rates to each other, noting that they’re all relatively low, but it failed to mention that the U.S. rate only got that low in 2008, when the Great Recession hit. To my reading, that suggests that tying low birth rates to “secularism” doesn’t make sense; the U.S. wasn’t notably more secular in 2009 than in 2007. If economic factors are as trivial as the article suggests, then the synchrony of the birth crash with the economic crash is just a coincidence. I don’t buy it.

But the larger point still stands. We’ve made parenthood much more difficult than it should be. The Quartz piece notes that making parenthood easier leads to more parents completing college. As any parent can tell you, childcare falls under “basic needs,” especially when the kids are young.

I’ve been around long enough to see the usual higher ed solution to the parental squeeze shift from “we’ll watch your kid while you’re in class” to “you can go online once your kid is asleep.” That’s better than nothing, but compared to subsidized on-site day care, it amounts to making parenthood harder. It puts the entire burden on parents who are, in the case of community college students, struggling economically themselves.

Online classes as a solution have the virtue of pragmatism. They help parents juggle work, parenting and school. Institutionally, they provide the prospect of replacing a loss center with a profit center, or at least with reducing losses. (Done well, online classes aren’t the cash cows that many assume, but that’s another post.) A college has to choose where it wants to lose money; if it’s already losing money through a combination of public disinvestment and rising health-care costs -- just hypothetically -- that may exhaust its capacity for losses. Given stagnant wages and “flexible” hours, students may prize asynchronous delivery as the best available option; the real issue, though, is the “given.”

Issues that look initially separate are often connected. Higher ed funding and the plight of day-care centers -- and therefore of students who are parents -- are connected. For that matter, parenthood and career trajectories are connected. I wrote as Dean Dad for so many years to make the point that work/parenthood conflicts aren’t restricted to mothers, and that men who are parents need to step up and own it, too. As a manager, I’ve made a point of leaving my charges alone in their off hours as much as possible as part of a larger political choice to make work human. We shouldn’t have to be martyrs, and we certainly shouldn’t have to martyr our (or other people’s) children. We’ve gone so far as a culture that leaving people alone on the weekends almost comes off as eccentric. I think of it as decent.

Why don’t people have as many kids as they used to? Let’s make it easier on parents and see what happens.

Next Story

Written By