As an institution committed to outstanding education for its 27,000+ students, Clemson University yearned for an onsite child care center that would deliver the same kind of educational excellence that its top-notch faculty offered students.
With up to 75% of children nationwide having both parents in the workforce, child care has become essential to employees. Unfortunately, in half of all states, the majority of workers live in child care deserts. In South Carolina, where Clemson is based, 42% of residents reside in such areas.
For Clemson, which like other organizations, is in a competitive race for top-notch faculty, students, researchers and funding, the lack of quality child care locally became even more dire during the pandemic when centers were closing everywhere.
The organization had to act. And it did. Clemson opened its center with the help of Bright Horizons in August 2020 -- mid-pandemic -- with nearly full enrollment, clear evidence of its need.
Importance of Quality
While the timing of its opening was critical, just as important to university leaders, faculty, and donors was that Clemson’s child care center delivers a quality educational experience. As a leader in early education, Clemson has leading faculty and researchers on its team. That level of expertise set a high bar when Clemson was researching center partners.
“There are definite variations in quality levels for child care,” says Sandy Linder, assistant chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning, and a professor of early childhood mathematics education, and a member of the research team that developed Clemson’s center. “The Bright Horizons curriculum and the materials they use give a clear understanding of their child-centric practices. They do a really great job of supporting the needs of children where they are and do so through a developmentally appropriate manner. The teachers support a growth mindset -- the idea that children can do anything they set their minds to. That’s really facilitated well by the Bright Horizons staff, so children are able to engage in work on their own without extrinsic motivation.”
“Faculty and staff came together from across the university to determine our child care needs,” says Danny Weathers, a professor in the Department of Marketing who participated in the center’s planning and whose three-and-a-half-year-old daughter now attends the center.
“Our center is not just entertaining kids for seven-to-eight hours a day,” says Weathers, “There’s structured learning going on. Bright Horizons puts children on the right path early, instilling in them an early love of learning, which eliminates any paradigm shift when a student moves to kindergarten or first grade. Each day when my daughter comes home, we talk about what she learned in school that day, not what she did.”
Added Value of Onsite
“Having accessible high-quality child care benefits the child, the family, the workplace – the system as a whole,” says Linder. “Having it onsite means that employees can live locally and not have to go to Greenville or Anderson (often a 30-45-minute drive), which are more likely to have the quality of child care that we enjoy here with Bright Horizons,” says Weathers.
“Having the center on campus means I spend less time driving my daughter to school. I have more time to do other things I need to do,” says Weathers. “Plus, there’s peace of mind knowing that our daughter is very nearby. I can be there in two minutes to deal with any unexpected issue. And, I don’t have to worry about the school closing or about the quality of the teachers.”
Clemson Chief Human Resources Officer Alejandra (Ale) Kennedy points out the benefit of having onsite child care that can bring together people who benefit by knowing one another. Weathers experienced that while picking up and dropping off his daughter, meeting parents he can tap into to set up workshops for his students. As a result, the center has become a research resource for faculty and students, as well as a source of jobs for Clemson graduates.
The center, which offers programming for infants through kindergarten prep for nearly 150 children of Clemson University faculty, students, and surrounding community members, has attracted donors. It was recently renamed the Phil and Mary Bradley Early Childhood Education Center in honor of long-time Clemson supporters who generously gifted the center to support the university’s need for on-campus child care.
Says Kennedy, “Having a child care center has become an expectation of working parents. Now we have an equalizer when competing with our peers who have child care centers. We’re able to address this critical need while boasting a top-notch facility of our own. It furthers our ability to compete for top talent. And as we work to ensure Clemson is an inclusive environment, having a child development center greatly aides the effort of creating a diverse and welcoming culture, which is especially impactful for prospective employees with families.”
On-campus child care has proven to help working parents better focus on their jobs, boosts the productivity of employees with young children, and promotes a healthy work-life balance. It’s also a retention tool. “Once children get connected to friends at school, it becomes that much more difficult for working parents to leave,” says the father of a child at the center.
This August the center celebrated its 2-year-anniversary of opening its doors. “It’s been a welcome way to support our faculty,” says Professor Linder. “We’re looking forward to having many more families join us in the years ahead.”
Want to add a child care center at your organization? Check out this step-by-step guide to get started.