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CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE:
A previous version of this article mistakenly indicated that the child care program was a "six-figure" program. The total cost of the program is less than $100K. Additionally, a previous version also did not specify that the 22 percent citing child care as stressful and the 50 percent citing family obligations as stressful were percentages of those who responded to the specific survey questions.

Construction of the David H. Koch Childcare Center, which will be the fifth on-campus day care facility at MIT, has filled in the empty space left behind by the demolition of 219 Vassar St. last fall. The building was fabricated off-site, making its assembly next to Simmons Hall quicker and easier. The center is scheduled to open by the end of this summer.

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Starting on July 1, 2013, undergraduate and graduate students with children were able to pre-register for the new subsidized backup child care program. The new program provides students with access to caregivers on a short notice through Parents in a Pinch, a national vendor for child care services. The program will run as a pilot until June 30, 2014, when it will reexamined for renewal.

For up to 10 days of the fiscal year, students can use the backup child care service, which provides a nanny at a subsidized rate of $5 per hour. Any days beyond the ten days cost $18.50 per hour and a daily placement fee ranging from $25 to $50.

The program aims to give students more flexibility and relieve some of the stress that comes with balancing academics and disruptions to normal child care. Students can choose to use the service for a myriad of reasons. For example, backup care may be used when students have school responsibilities or when the day care is closed.

“I know for myself, I cannot make a 6 p.m. meeting if I have already picked up my daughter from child care and I need to be thinking about dinner. If two parents are working, juggling these things can be difficult,” said Marzyeh Ghassemi G, a GSC Housing and Community Affairs co-chair.

After the pilot year, the program will be evaluated to determine whether or not it will be continued. Especially important in evaluating the program will be the initial preregistration numbers and subsequent usage levels. However, the backup child care program is seen as a long-term initiative.

“Hopefully it will be a long-term program. We think it will be able to touch everybody in a way other programs don’t do as easily,” said Kathy Simons, senior program manager of Child Care Services and Work-Life Policy at the MIT Work-Life Office. “I think it’s not a pilot in the sense that we’re doing it now but we’re going to do other things later. I think it’s going to one of those programs that will be kept.”

Funding

The Office of the Provost, MIT Work-Life Center, and Graduate Student Council (GSC) will fund the five-figure program. The GSC, from Career Fair profits, will provide the $38,000, with additional funding provided by the provost. The GSC worked through the Office of the Dean of Graduate Education (ODGE) and Dean Christine Ortiz to obtain the additional funding needed from the provost, with support of Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80.

According to Simons, the provost “met the gap” between the GSC and Work-Life funds, and the cost of the program. The funding provided by the provost will cover the fixed cost of opting MIT students into the backup child care program, and the GSC funding will be used to subsidize the lower hourly rate.

Motivation

The main motivation for the backup child care program comes from 2013 MIT Student Quality of Life Survey, which reported that roughly 10 percent of the graduate student population have children. Even though only 52 percent of graduate students responded to the survey, this number was unexpectedly high — the GSC expected a value closer to seven percent of the graduate student population. In addition, of those graduate students who responded to the questions, half cited family obligations as stressful, and 22 percent cited child care as stressful.

The GSC claims that these statistics prove that child care at MIT, which is located in one of the most expensive areas in terms of baby-sitting, is a struggle for many graduate students. Though MIT provides many resources through Technology Childcare Centers, Work-Life Resources 24/7, and help for childbirth, they are still many issues that need to be resolved, particularly pertaining stress and cost.

To tackle these concerns, “one of the more immediate things that could be addressed was this backup child care idea,” said Ghassemi. The program would be fast to implement, taking a little over a semester’s time to plan. Backup child care services have been offered to faculty and staff for over five years and have received excellent reviews, according Kathy Simons. However, the contract needed to be renegotiated due to the heavily subsidized hourly rate. Compared to the student program, faculty and staff are limited to using the program fifteen days at a higher hourly rate of $16.

“I think that we all had the sense that after the research we did, this is a benefit that many institutions provide their students, specifically because it’s such a common need,” said Ghassemi.

“Students often just curry favors with one another,” noted Simons. “They might ask a friend to take care of their child for a couple hours and then they’ll owe them a favor, or they go without sleep or miss a meeting.” With this backup child care program, there will be a “safety net” that helps students when there are disruptions to child care.

Cost still an issue

Yet, “the backup child care program will by no means help the students in their struggle of finding a regular (day-to-day) child care arrangement,” said Anna Häggman, the GSC Family Subcommittee chair. For regular child care arrangements, a trade-off between quality and cost still exists.

While the Office of the Dean of Graduate Education offers the on-campus Technology Childcare Center as day care, the waitlist will take at least two years to exhaust. The Koch Childcare Center, scheduled to open late this summer, will almost double the number space for children, increasing the current 142 spots by 126. Even with the increase, TCCs are still catered towards faculty, with professors and postdoctoral associates receiving priority for new openings.

The common sentiment is that regardless of the availability issue being resolved, price will still be an issue. At its Stata facility, the monthly tuition costs families $2,334 per toddler. According to Häggman, this price exceeds a graduate student’s monthly stipend, making TCC and many other day care centers unaffordable.

In addition, TCC scholarships for graduate students were phased out in the last several years because of the low number of graduate students with children in TCC. Luckily, these funds will be re-appropriated for use in the new backup child care program, forming part of the funding provided by the Institute.

Potential solutions

The GSC and ODGE are in the preliminary stages of planning several solutions to the issue of cost. Three proposals that they are exploring are a needs-based child care grant program, a family day care network, and cooperative childcare. Compared to the backup child care program, these require more funding, time, and planning.

A needs-based child care grant would provide graduate students with funds to help with child care. Given the large amount of funding needed, more time is necessary before anything can be officially implemented.

On the other hand, a family day care network requires more outreach outside of MIT. Family day cares are child care centers based in people’s homes, where the rate is often cheaper than institutionalized child care like TCC. The goal is to affiliate these day cares with MIT and offer lower rates and priority to MIT students. However, these day cares around MIT have to be evaluated to ensure that they are high quality, which requires lead time. For comparison, Harvard’s Longwood Medical Campus is implementing a family day care network in August 2013. It remains to be seen how this program will influence MIT’s choices.

The final idea is starting a larger child care cooperative. MIT already has a child care cooperative at Westgate, but it is relatively small at fifteen students, and geared towards preschoolers. Graduate students, whose schedules are seen as more flexible than those of faculty, would volunteer some their time at a cooperative to take care of the children. This would allow for a lower monthly rate because fewer people have to be hired. However, space needs to be identified and a nonprofit organization for administration needs to be selected. CalTech and Stanford have already implemented similar programs.

If approved, these ideas would significantly reduce the economic burden of child care on students. “I think that the idea of cooperative child care, the idea of a family day care network, the idea of backup child care, and the idea for a needs-based child care grant are part of this entire picture of services that go to fill in the gaps in that community,” said Ghassemi.

Even with lots of room for improvement, graduate students and staff are optimistic about future collaboration. The ODGE, responsible for obtaining funding from the provost for the backup child care program, is “strongly committed to supporting graduate families and in the coming year will continue to work closely with the Work-Life Center with input from the GSC-HCA Families sub-committee to carefully evaluate the pilot back-up child care program, as well as to continue to explore other mechanisms of support for our graduate families,” wrote Christine Ortiz, Dean of Graduate Education, to The Tech.

Members of the GSC-HCA also seem excited about the Institute’s child care offerings in the future. “It seems like many universities are realizing that in order to attract talented faculty, they have to create family-friendly policies and benefits,” notes Häggman. “Some universities are starting to offer these benefits to students as well, realizing that today’s grad students are tomorrow’s junior faculty.”