Child Care at Iowa State

Childcare for students, faculty, and staff at Iowa State came to the attention of women’s groups as a problem only within the last few decades. As early as the 1960s, activists such as Betty Friedan called for better childcare accommodations in higher education. She visited Iowa State in April 1968 and called for improved childcare centers and a higher pay scale for university employees.

In the 1950s, the university had no official childcare facility. In 1961, the Pammel Nursery School, a cooperative parent group, offered limited childcare services for Iowa State families. It hired its first staff member after it incorporated in 1965. It was not until 1970 that the university began investigating the needs of its faculty, staff, and students for childcare.

YWCA Babysitters

YWCA Members Serve as Babysitters, 1955

A year later and in the wake of the highly visible women’s movement during the 1960s and 1970s, the university opened the University Community Childcare in 1971. The daycare center operated at 1040 Pammel Court in Ames and served Iowa State faculty, staff, students, and members of the Ames community. Some members of the university community, however, felt that more could be done to meet the needs of childcare on campus, and in 1976, the University Committee on Women established a subcommittee on childcare. It focused its attention on sick-child care, training childcare staff, promoting childcare services, instituting a referral service and infant daycare.

Three years later, in 1979, the university created an official committee dedicated solely to childcare issues called the University Child Care Committee. It evaluated the childcare options available and worked with the Board of Regents to improve childcare at Iowa State. In 1987, the Board of Regents mandated that institutions conduct campus-wide “child care needs” assessments. Out of these assessments, the Board of Regents determined that Iowa State had to revamp its childcare services. The university received two special appropriations from the Board of Regents totaling $110,000.

With funding secured for better childcare facilities, Iowa State hired Sonia Johnson in November 1990 as its childcare consultant. Working with the University Child Care Committee, the Department of Residence, and the University Childcare Center, Johnson created three new childcare services: a childcare resource and referral agency, a sick-child care center, and a part-time childcare center for student families.

While these three services enhanced the childcare options available for university staff, faculty, and students, a large segment of the student body struggled to find a childcare center. Students in veterinary medicine completed a study in 1992. The study showed that fifty-four families with eighty children desperately needed a childcare facility in or near the Veterinary Medicine complex. In response to the survey, the Provost’s Office set aside eighty-one thousand dollars to build a center for Veterinary Medicine students. Two years later, Iowa State broke ground on a new childcare center near the College of Veterinary Medicine. The estimated cost for the center—which at eight thousand feet could hold more than eighty children at one time—was $1.46 million.

The childcare study given to veterinary medicine students foreshadowed larger problems in childcare options for the entire Iowa State campus. In 1993, a campus-wide survey found that three hundred twenty full-time daycare openings were needed to accommodate the children of Iowa State students, faculty, and staff. At the time, only sixty-six openings were available for children aged six weeks to twelve years old. To add to the frustration, the University Community Childcare at Pammel Court had been scheduled for demolition by the year 2000.

The University Child Care Committee sprung into action to meet the demands for childcare on campus, and the remnants of their efforts reverberate today. A new building on the northwest side of campus was built to house the University Community Childcare Center. In addition, a wide-range of options for childcare emerged at Iowa State. Today, the Center for Child Care Resources offers free referrals for childcare options. It also hosts four separate daycares to address a range of childcare needs, including the University Childcare at Veterinary Medicine, the University Community Childcare, the Comfort Zone for mildly-ill children, and the Flex-Care Preschool Program. The university also offers preschool for Iowa State University student, staff, and faculty children from age three to five. In addition, the YWCA compiles a sitter’s list each year for students, faculty, and staff in need of babysitters. Finally, the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center maintains lactating rooms on campus for new parents.

While childcare on campus has been improved drastically over the past thirty years, a large number of parents are still without childcare through the university. On January 7, 2000, the University Child Care Committee surveyed the number of openings available in university childcare facilities. It found that the waiting list at the Veterinary Medicine center exceeded three hundred children while the waiting list for the University Community Childcare was over five hundred children. Childcare remains an important issue for parents on campus.