Parents Question MU Commitment to Campus Day Care

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COLUMBIA - Just after the University of Missouri released more than 1,000 pages of documents surrounding the state of the University Village Apartments, parents at the Student Parent Center are expressing concerns about the university's commitment to day care.

Naomi Clark is a graduate student at MU and said she brings her kids to the Student Parent Center because of its convenient location. She said it is also a popular choice for international students.

"Knowing that there is a daycare on campus, knowing that even though they are traveling miles and miles, sometimes half way around the world, away from family, that at least their kids will be close to them during the day," Clark said. "That helps recruit the best students to MU."

When a walkway at apartment building 707 at University Village collapsed Feb. 22, Clark said she was nervous about bringing her two young children to the day care housed in building 602.

"I assumed that I could trust the university to have our children and their own students' best interest at heart and that they would not be housing people in buildings that were about to collapse," Clark said.

Following the collapse, Heath Immel, the associate director of the Missouri Student Unions hosted a parent meeting at the Student Parent Center to address safety concerns. Immel wouldn't allow KOMU 8 News to stay at the meeting, but parents said they were assured they would have access to day care until the end of the semester.

Any efforts to discuss the future of the center or the support from the university with Immel or Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jeffrey Zeilenga, were referred to spokesperson, Michelle Froese. KOMU 8 News reached out to Froese, but she refused multiple attempts to discuss the Student Parent Center stating they "can't speculate about long-term plans."

In an email to KOMU 8 News, Froese said five years ago parent fees funded 80 percent of the budget for the daycare while the university picked up the remaining 20 percent. Since then, she said the center has had decreasing enrollment.

"Decreasing enrollment correlates to decreasing parent fees," Froese said. "As the percentage of funding from parent fees has declined, the university has had to cover the remainder, which is now almost 46 percent of the budget," Froese said in an email.

Froese then referred any additional questions to the MU News Bureau who didn't return our multiple calls.

Clark also said she has noticed a significant drop in enrollment. She noted one incident where an international student attempting to enroll her child in the center was told the center was unsure there would be room for her son come fall.

"I knew because I was there that they were actually below enrollment. They were looking, they were soliciting," Clark said. "I was confused because I knew there were open spots.

Dale Fitch is the chair of the Family Friendly Campus Committee and said specific needs for student parents on campus aren't clear. The committee plans to release a survey in April to get an idea of how strong the need is for these services.

"Students today aren't like students 30-40 years ago," Fitch said. "There's a notion of the traditional student that just doesn't hold sway anymore."

Fitch said on other campuses, there have been offices for family life to address things like on-site day care. He said they will review the data and then make a recommendation to Chancellor Loftin.

"One of the hopes of the committee is that, we know the university realizes it's more than just, it's more than just daycare. It represents a commitment to our students who are parents," Fitch said.

Parents released a petition March 7 to move the daycare to another spot on campus. The petition received more than 200 signatures in the first 24 hours.