Naomi Clark, a doctoral candidate in the English department, began taking her children to the Student Parent Center in 2009. Over the past five years, Clark has completed her Master’s degree and will be getting her PhD this semester.
Clark said she would not have completed her degrees without the Student Parent Center and that many of her classmates feel the same way.
“The daycare has been really instrumental in making so many degrees possible, increasing retention and increasing the completion rate,” Clark said.
Clark said the Student Parent Center is a valuable resource because many graduate students begin their degrees while starting a family.
Other graduate students like Greg and Mimi Perreault have returned to school after already starting their careers and having children. The Perreaults are both doctoral students at the Missouri School of Journalism. They have one daughter, Evangeline, and another baby on the way.
“When I was applying to PhD programs, I applied to 11,” Greg Perreault said. “In talking to different faculty, there were a lot of things that came into play. We just saw that [the Student Parent Center] was an option here and it was definitely a selling feature for us.”
But the daycare at MU was not just a convenience for the Perreaults.
“It just made us feel like the University of Missouri had different priorities than some of the other places that we had looked at,” Mimi Perreault said. “It said ‘Families are a priority to us. We’re thinking about students who are coming from all different walks of life and time periods in their life.”
Greg Perreault said the availability of daycare is an important factor to attract professionals to return to school. He said the university benefits from these students because they are often utilized as professors for undergraduate classes.
However, these benefits may not be enough to offset the cost of the Student Parent Center. In an interview with the Columbia Tribune, MU spokesman Christian Basi said the university used $130,000 from student fees and the general operating budget to support the Student Parent Center. (Basi was not available to talk with KBIA before publication of this report.)
While child enrollment fees for the center are not cheap (Naomi Clark estimates she spends about $6,000 per semester for her two children ), Basi told the Tribune in March that these enrollment fees only cover about half of the daycare’s operating expenses.
In April, a group of students met with Chancellor Bowen Loftin to discuss the need for on-campus daycare. Clark was a part of that discussion and said Loftin seemed to be preparing parents for the worst.
“Instead of talking about his commitment to making some kind of on-campus daycare available, he reiterated the expense,” Clark said.
When MU announced it would close the center in June, the official release stated only 16 children of students were enrolled. But Mimi Perreault said this number doesn’t tell the whole story.
“We’re not the only family that has one kid there and there are two student parents,” Perreault said. “When you say the number 16 it doesn’t sound like a really big number but that could be 28 students who are producing four or five research projects for the university a year.”
Last year, the Student Parent Center served 47 children from 40 families. According to their 2013 annual report, 62% of these families were eligible for free or reduced price meals, which is a common indicator of low-income families.
Regardless of the numbers, Greg Perreault said he believed that closing the Student Parent Center will greatly affect a portion of the university’s students who are in need of support.
“This is a resource that really helped some of the most vulnerable,” Perreault said. “I’m thinking in particular of single moms. I’m thinking of international students who came here with a real deep need to have their kids watched so they can attend the world-class programs Missouri has to offer.”
After the official announcement of the daycare’s closing, the Family Friendly Campus Committee, a standing committee appointed by the chancellor, released a survey for MU students and faculty to record the need for childcare. The results of this survey were sent to Chancellor Loftin yesterday. Loftin is expected to make a decision in early May.