Penn State

Penn State survey examines child care needs, offerings

Months after employees became enraged over Penn State’s decision to outsource the management of a child care center to a private company, the university has started collecting input from employees that officials said will help inform future decision-making.

Since last week, about 4,600 university employees have taken a survey that asks them to identify their needs for child care. It was emailed to faculty, staff and graduate students, and the last day to take it is Friday.

The survey is one of the activities of a task force that was convened to study child care services at Penn State and issue recommendations to President Rodney Erickson in December. The findings will be made public.

The chairwoman, undergraduate associate dean Jacqueline Edmondson, said her group also will review policies and compare services with Penn State’s peer institutions before submitting the recommendations.

So far, word is that “clear high-quality, affordable child care is a priority across the Penn State community,” she said.

Edmondson said that 39,000 people were sent a survey, which was devised by the university’s Social Sciences Research Institute.

A 2011 report recommended that Penn State examine its child care centers, and the task force was created after the debate that ensued when Penn State announced this summer that Hildebrandt Inc. would take over managing the Bennett Family Center. Faculty and staff whose children attend the center were upset that the teachers there would lose their Penn State benefits, and they feared that would lead to turnover.

Penn State delayed the transition to Hildebrandt until the spring while the task force completes its work.

“Parents are hopeful that the task force evaluates the role of early childhood education, including the research, teaching and outreach missions of the centers, in addition to its child care services, as well as the support the equitable benefits for all the teachers and staff at the centers,” said assistant professor Erica Smithwick, who is on the task force and has a child who attends the on-campus Hort Woods Center.