My daughter mentioned a CNN report that quoted childcare costs as the same as college tuition. It sounded alarming to her. As a young professional, she was beginning to calculate the costs of raising a family. Putting her child through college, as a 6-week-old, sounded daunting.
Childcare is also getting attention on the Presidential campaign trails, as candidates hope to appeal to the 70% of mothers in the workforce, 40% who are primary wage earners. Both candidates intend to make childcare more affordable. With childcare on each candidate’s agenda, do we know what we are getting for our money? And, is the cost comparison between childcare and college fair?
As reported, the national average costs for college and childcare are similar, each a little over 9K. And, childcare and college education do share a few other commonalities:
• They both prepare children to become contributing members of a prosperous economy.
• They last 4 to 5 years.
• Participation in them is optional.
• Families pay.
Now, what about cost? Pulling out the calculator, let’s break down the comparison. The rates reported in the news program were $9410 for college and $9589 for childcare.
Weeks per year 30 52
Contact hours per week 15 50
Average Cost per hour $21.00 $3.65
This comparison is shocking because of the exceedingly low rate at which we value the care of babies.
What does $21/hour provide at the university? One teacher, highly trained in the subject matter who manages the learning for the class. The average number of students is 21. This rate provides for a favorable teacher-to-student ratio. College classes are likely to produce good results, especially since students are responsible outside of the classroom for their learning.
Can our babies afford childcare at this price?
During the first five years of life, responsive relationships with caring adults are both expected and essential. According to the Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, “Early experience affects the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all learning, behavior, and health.” Parents and childcare teachers provide the critical relationships and the back-and-forth interactions that build the brain’s architecture. In the absence of responsive, consistent and sensitive adults, the foundation does not form as expected.
Seen as affordable, one teacher with eight two-year-olds is an acceptable licensing ratio in some states. While many of us find managing one toddler challenging, imagine octopulets. Childcare teachers are not super-people; they are just like all of us. Perhaps we should reconsider what children need – and it is a lot more than 1/8 of an adult.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends two teachers for every eight toddlers or every six infants. At these lower ratios, the childcare teacher is better able to attend the emotional and physical health, social skills, and learning for children throughout the entire day. And, research shows that quality childcare better prepares children for success in school, the workplace, and in our communities.
Quality childcare should be more expensive. The meager $3.65 an hour does not allow for what children need. It also should be affordable for families. As caring communities, we need to make a public commitment to children’s wellbeing and pay for our share of the future. After all, childcare provides the foundational growth that all of us should have.
Childcare does not need $21/hr per child. Colleges support lavish football programs, massive administrations, and an expansive campus. However, funding childcare at $3.65 provides unacceptable conditions for our children. Let’s at least double our expectation of what it costs to care for young children.
Infants, toddlers, and three-year-olds are our future citizens. Children with strong foundations will give back to our society later contributing to the prosperity of our communities and our world. Let’s change the conversation to “How can we, as a community, make it easier for families to afford higher-priced childcare?”