Presque Isle – On Thursday, November 18th, during the NMCC Foundation Annual Dinner, Northern Maine Community College President Timothy Crowley announced a significant initiative to support students’ families. The tiered plan encompasses the significant expansion of the College’s early childhood education (ECE) program, including funds to build an on-site childcare facility, doubling the program’s student capacity and significantly increasing family housing on campus.
“Throughout the United States, there is a childcare crisis, and Aroostook County is no different. There are not enough facilities and not enough trained people to fill the open childcare positions,” President Crowley stated, addressing the audience which included Foundation board members, donors, and members of NMCC faculty and staff.
The campus-based childcare center will be designed to serve 40 children, ages birth to eight years of age. NMCC students and staff will have priority enrollment for their children; however, the remaining capacity will be available to the community. The facility will be operated by a licensed local provider and the selection process for that partner will begin in the coming months. Since the new center will be operated by a local provider, it will be an enhancement of the current services in Central Aroostook, not introducing new competition.
The Center will be designed to serve as a “lab school” in support of the NMCC’s early childhood education program which offers both a two-year associate degree and a one-year certificate-level option. The on-campus childcare center will provide an appropriate setting for the ECE majors to obtain the 450 field-experience hours required for the State of Maine Child Development Associate (CDA) credential.
In addition to the childcare center, the new initiative includes funds to convert residential-life buildings to provide 12 family-housing units. “Over the last 10 years, the average age of an NMCC student has continued to increase, which indicates that there are now more post-traditional students attending college,” said President Crowley during the announcement. “This trend aligns with other significant shifts in local demographics. With the increase in post-traditional students, there has been a natural increase in the number of parents becoming college students. During the 2019-2020 academic year, there were 74 single parents attending NMCC. Having access to on-campus housing would benefit those families.”
Based on information from students, NMCC administration and staff believe that providing more family housing units will allow students to live, go to school, and receive childcare, Crowley explained. “With these two projects dovetailing, the students would have a stronger chance at eliminating at least one barrier that would interfere with their potential for success.”
While the NMCC administration has long been aware of the need for reliable and quality childcare for students and employees, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that brought the issue to the forefront.
“In this field, at this time, I’m continually hearing that there’s not enough childcare available for parents. On the other hand, from the providers, I’m hearing there aren’t enough trained professionals to run the childcare centers. This issue has been exacerbated by COVID-19,” said NMCC ECE Instructor Heidi Broad-Smith. “Early childhood education is an excellent career path, but there are several barriers facing potential students in this area, including lack of access to childcare and housing. I’m thrilled about this expansion. Our community needs it, and the timing couldn’t be better.”
Earlier this semester, the NMCC administrators met with 65 students. “Students identified the lack of reliable, affordable childcare as the number one issue that could prevent them from accomplishing their goal of obtaining a college degree,” stated Crowley. A review of the data for students who left the College during the 2020-2021 academic year, indicated that 69 female students left NMCC due to the lack of affordable childcare.
As part of NMCC’s effort to address the current childcare workforce shortage in Aroostook County, the College plans to double the capacity of the early childhood education program, and expand enrollment accordingly. In support of this effort, the College will bring on one additional ECE faculty member.
“We are attempting to address this issue in a comprehensive way,” Crowley explained. “By providing family housing and on-campus childcare, we think we can expand the number of students able to join the childcare workforce. The more certified providers in the area, the more slots available to support parents hit hardest by the pandemic, allowing them to re-enter the workforce. These efforts are also designed to enable new parents, who have been unable to secure quality childcare due to shortages, to enter the workforce.”
Another unique aspect of this project is the collaboration between the College and the Presque Isle High School’s Regional Career Technical Center. The two institutions signed an articulation agreement that secures ten spaces for PIHSRCT students taking ECE classes through the On-Course for College Program to earn lab hours at the new center, allowing a total student capacity of 50.
A secondary goal of this project is for the NMCC early childhood education program to earn national accreditation. The addition of the on-campus childcare center is an important component of this process, and achieving national accreditation indicates the highest quality of education available in this field. The application process for accreditation will begin once the new Center is in full operation.
This initiative is made possible through combined funds from NMCC, The NMCC Foundation, and a grant from The Rodney & Mary Barton Smith Family Foundation. The college has committed nearly $1M toward the renovations and technology for the Center, and will annually cover the cost of an additional instructor. The NMCC Foundation is committing $30,000 annually to support enrollment and scholarships. The remaining funds for the project are made possible from a $2.8M grant awarded by The Rodney & Mary Barton Smith Family Foundation to support the initiative.
To learn more about NMCC’s 30+ programs or the early childhood education program at the College, please contact Admissions at (207) 768-2785 or visit nmcc.edu.
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