Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The UC Budget Crisis and its Effects on the Early Childhood Education Program (ECEP) Community at UC Berkeley

Quality and affordable childcare is important for the recruitment, retention, academic success and well-being of UC faculty, students, and staff.  UC Berkeley has failed to offer AFFORDABLE childcare for its students, faculty, staff, and the campus community at large. 
The UC budget crisis has been felt for a long time and has had devastating effects on the ECEP community over the years and more recently this past week. 

On Monday, September 21st, the parents whose children attend UC Berkeley Childcare were notified that Girton Hall is to close without warning on September 28, 2009 due to low enrollment. Girton Hall is one of four preschool centers on the UC Berkeley campus.  Although all children were offered placements in other UC Berkeley childcare centers, parents were not asked where they would prefer their children be placed.  According to the letter, the under-enrollment was due to "many families losing their jobs due to the economy"; however, parents have long complained that admissions
decisions to the UC Berkeley childcare program are made at the last minute, sometimes after the school year has already started, when parents have already had to put in place alternate childcare arrangements.   The program administration, which has in the past made it clear that the program is
moving away from offering care for infants and younger preschoolers in an effort to become financially independent, cited a desire to open a bridge Kindergarten in the Girton Hall space as a reason for choosing that center for closure. 

Thirteen (13) children and the staff of Girton Hall will be transferred to other programs.   Program administration has not responded to parents' requests for a meeting about Girton Hall's closure or to a request to keep the center open until the winter break to allow the children a more natural
transition into their new childcare environment.    *    *    * 

The tuition to attend any of the UCB Childcare Programs is as follows: $1815 - infants $1660 - toddlers $1375 - preschool-aged children 32-56 months. This represents approximately an 11.5% increase over last year and puts UC Berkeley's tuition on par with that of private for-profit childcare
centers.  The cost to attend one of the ECEP childcare programs is prohibitive even for faculty and staff who earn over $65,000.    For low-income CAL students there are subsidies, but they are increasingly more difficult to obtain.  Both parents must be either working full-time or
engaged in full-time study.  Recently, there has been instituted a requirement that the student-parent must maintain a certain GPA and carry a full load.  

Student families have been crucial in the formation of the ECEP.  Compared to *all* other top-tiered universities in the country for students with families, ECEP's mission is or used to be distinctive: to provide affordable service to student families. Recently however, student families are the group who has been most affected by the fee increases and (more generally) ECEP's questionable actions for balancing its budget: more specifically, (a) subsidized spots are more scarce compared to two years
ago (due to different allocation of funds per spot), and (b) unsubsidized student fees went from $775/month in Fall 2006 to up to $1375--$1815/month (depending on age group), a staggering increase of 80--135%. 

The ECEP programs that were once impacted with a waiting list of 300-plus are now placing advertisements on the Berkeley Parents Network.   Does this mean that there is not a need for such childcare services?  Of course it does not. Rather the move to open up the programs to the general (non-UC affiliated) public, signals a shift in de-prioritizing affordability and accessibility in favor of increasing revenues.  

ECEP has had to do more with less for a long time and difficult decisions have had to be made. Unfortunately exacerbating the situation has also been a mismanaged and weak administration that consistently has failed to be transparent in its decision-making and to involve parents.  The teachers at
ECEP remain stellar and it seems now more so than ever that their jobs are at risk.   The closing of the childcare centers at UC Santa Cruz does not bode well for the ECEP community and for all UC faculty, staff, and student body who are parents.  UC Berkeley parents are left to wonder whether they
will be the next ones to receive one week's notice that their child's childcare center is closing. 

Report by Susette Min, Melinda Pilling, Gilad Arnold


Letícia said...

Unfortunately that trend is not exclusively to ECEP. Family housing in the UC Village is also becoming prohibitively expensive for students -- rents increase 6% each year, matching and even surpassing market averages.

The Rev. Mama said...

We had to move our son out of a UC Berkeley ECEP center this year because the fee increases made it too much for us to afford--and that was before the 8% pay cut was announced. We were so sad to leave because we loved the teachers, the center and our class community--but it turns out we were only the first of many, sadly.

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