The Star-Herald

NMCC will support students’ families with campus child care center

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Northern Maine Community College President Timothy Crowley announced a significant initiative to support students’ families during the NMCC Foundation annual dinner on Nov. 18.

The tiered plan encompasses the significant expansion of the College’s early childhood education program, including funds to build an on-site child care facility, doubling the program’s student capacity and significantly increasing family housing on campus.

 “Throughout the United States, there is a child care crisis, and Aroostook County is no different. There are not enough facilities and not enough trained people to fill the open child care positions,” Crowley told foundation board members, donors and campus faculty and staff.

 The campus-based child care center will be designed to serve 40 children up to age 8. NMCC students and staff will have priority enrollment for their children; however, the remaining capacity will be available to the community. The facility will be operated by a licensed local provider and the selection process for that partner will begin in the coming months. 

Since the new center will be operated by a local provider, it will be an enhancement of the current services in Central Aroostook, not introducing new competition.

 The center will be designed to serve as a “lab school” in support of the early childhood education program, which offers both a two-year associate degree and a one-year certificate-level option. The facility will provide an appropriate setting for program majors to obtain the 450 field-experience hours required for their state credential.

 The new initiative includes funds to convert residential life buildings to provide 12 family housing units. 

“Over the last 10 years, the average age of an NMCC student has continued to increase, which indicates that there are now more post-traditional students attending college,” said Crowley. “With the increase in post-traditional students, there has been a natural increase in the number of parents becoming college students. During the 2019-2020 academic year, there were 74 single parents attending NMCC. Having access to on-campus housing would benefit those families.”

Campus staff believe providing more family housing units will allow students to live, go to school and receive child care, Crowley explained.  

“With these two projects dovetailing, the students would have a stronger chance at eliminating at least one barrier that would interfere with their potential for success,” he said.

 While the NMCC administration has long been aware of the need for reliable and quality child care for students and employees, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that brought the issue to the forefront.

 “In this field, at this time, I’m continually hearing that there’s not enough child care available for parents. On the other hand, from the providers, I’m hearing there aren’t enough trained professionals to run the child care centers. This issue has been exacerbated by COVID-19,” said early childhood instructor Heidi Broad-Smith. 

“Early childhood education is an excellent career path, but there are several barriers facing potential students in this area, including lack of access to child care and housing. I’m thrilled about this expansion. Our community needs it, and the timing couldn’t be better,” Broad-Smith said.

 Earlier this semester, the NMCC administrators met with 65 students who said the lack of reliable, affordable child care was the number one issue that could prevent them from attaining their educational goals, Crowley said. A review of the data for students who left the college during the 2020-2021 academic year indicated that 69 female students left due to the lack of affordable child care.

 NMCC plans to double the capacity of the early childhood education program and expand enrollment accordingly. In support of this effort, the college will hire an additional instructor.

 “By providing family housing and on-campus child care, we think we can expand the number of students able to join the child care workforce. The more certified providers in the area, the more slots available to support parents hit hardest by the pandemic, allowing them to re-enter the workforce,” Crowley said. “These efforts are also designed to enable new parents, who have been unable to secure quality child care due to shortages, to enter the workforce.” 

 The college will collaborate with Presque Isle High School’s Regional Career and Technical Center. The two institutions signed an articulation agreement that secures 10 spaces for tech center students taking early childhood classes through the On-Course for College Program to earn lab hours at the new center, allowing a total student capacity of 50.

A secondary goal of this project is for the NMCC early childhood education program to earn national accreditation. The addition of the on-campus child care center is an important component of this process. The application process for accreditation will begin once the new Center is in full operation.

 Funding for the project will come from three sources. The college has committed nearly $1 million toward the renovations and technology for the center, and will annually cover the cost of an additional instructor. The NMCC Foundation is committing $30,000 annually to support enrollment and scholarships. The remaining funds are made possible from a $2.8 million grant awarded by The Rodney and Mary Barton Smith Family Foundation.

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