Study finds child care is a challenge

Employees and students with young children at Iowa State and the ISU Research Park agree: The university community needs more quality, accessible and affordable child care options.

This was the consensus of nearly 900 survey responses and campus interviews conducted last fall as part of a joint child care feasibility study to identify the demand for child care services on campus. Employees and students with children ages infant to 12 years old or those who plan to have or adopt kids within the next two years participated in the study.

This is Iowa State's first child care study, which, according to associate vice president for university human resources Julie Nuter, offers a solid framework on which to build possible child care projects.

"We started with a lot of unknowns, but now we have data that can help in future decision-making," Nuter said. "We can identify how and when a child care center or other options may fit into the bigger picture."

Current resources

Information about Iowa State's existing child care services is available online.

Key findings

Following are some of the key findings from the study. A complete report is online.

Who responded?

  • Professional and scientific employees were the largest group (51 percent) of university respondents
  • Workiva was the largest group (49 percent) of research park respondents
  • Forty-four percent of ISU respondents reported an annual family income of more than $100,000 and 20 percent reported an annual family income of less than $50,000. For research park respondents, the numbers were 46 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Interest in child care

  • 481 of 630 university respondents and 169 of 235 research park respondents said they would be likely or somewhat likely to use a child care center on or near campus or the research park
  • There is significant interest in school-age child care initiatives, including emergency back-up, holiday and vacation, and summer day camp care

Affordability of child care

  • Most comments provided by respondents mentioned an inability to afford the cost of care at the ISU campus centers and the overall high cost of care in the area. Research about local centers shows the average cost of child care in Ames is higher than elsewhere in the county. During FY14, the average weekly cost for infant care was $246.32 in Ames and $196.36 for the rest of Story County.
  • Survey results and comments identified a high interest in financial assistance for child care
  • Participants in campus interviews said affordable, quality child care is an important part of recruitment efforts at ISU, especially for associate professors who do not have large salaries and often are in child-rearing years. They also said better child care options could increase diversity at Iowa State and help recruit more women faculty.

Availability of child care

  • Waiting lists and a lack of child care repeatedly were cited as a problem in the survey comments. Sixty-two percent of respondents said their preferred child care programs were already filled, especially for infants. Many said there is little infant care in the community and long waiting lists. This was supported by research at local centers.

Next steps

The study concluded that a new child care center for about 100 children on or near campus would cost approximately $3.5 to $4 million, including architectural designs, construction, furnishings, indoor and outdoor equipment, playground and staffing. The research park has requested information and bids from developers for a child care facility as part of its future expansion, and UHR is working with the purchasing department to develop a request for proposal for a child care vendor. But that doesn't mean a new child care center is in Iowa State's immediate future.

"A child care center doesn't address all our needs because families are not all alike," Nuter said.

But a child care center could prove to be an attractive recruitment tool, according to ISU Research Park director Steve Carter.

"Part of recruiting a young, dynamic workforce demands the creation of work space that allows employees' work and lives to seamlessly integrate," Carter said. "Having children close to the work space is a very logical extension of the live/work philosophy we are building into our next phase of development."

Nuter is sharing the study's results with various university groups and committees. She expects to continue the conversation on campus about the university's child care options throughout the spring.