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Childhood Education Program Committee


The analysis and discussions surrounding the tuition increase decision for 2004-05 suggested the need for a more comprehensive and in-depth review of the college’s commitment to the Center. Timing was critical in order to make a decision on a new childcare facility this spring. During our tuition-setting discussions, we explored several larger ideas for reducing costs. Most of these would likely entail significant changes to the program or to the flexibility that staff and faculty have with regard to program schedules. Based on these initial discussions in February, Dean for Academic Development Charles Staelin and Vice President for Finance and Administration Ruth Constantine appointed a committee in late March 2004 to explore these issues in greater depth and to provide recommendations as to the appropriate level of subsidy, size of the center, flexibility of enrollment options, tradeoffs between program quality and cost, and the role of the college’s support of the Sunnyside program.

Findings and observations


The committee confirmed the important role that the early childhood education center provides to the college community, including its role as a recruitment and retention tool for younger faculty and staff. There was consensus that Smith families were generally pleased with the quality and flexibility of the current program. With the recent or impending closures of local centers, the committee believes that continuation of this important program is more essential than ever given the limited external options, particularly at the infant care level.


Upon review of the various subsidies supporting the program, the committee concluded that while some subsidy was appropriate, the current level was excessive, particularly in the current climate of budget reduction and constraint, including cuts to academic programs and faculty and staff size. To frame its discussions, the committee adopted the goal of eliminating the direct operating subsidy in the near-term while maintaining a tuition discount and indirect costs subsidy. This goal translates into a rough savings target of $135,000 to $150,000 from the total subsidy of $422,000 projected for 2004-05.


The committee carefully reviewed comparative tuition data from eighteen other early childcare programs, including centers affiliated with or operated by Wellesley College, Dartmouth College, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Hampshire College, Bowdoin College, Williams College, and Harvard University. This review suggested that Smith’s programs were priced on par with programs in more urban areas, such as Cambridge and Wellesley, but were significantly higher than other programs in the Pioneer Valley or at Bowdoin College or Williams College. For example, the $1,572 monthly charge for infant care (academic year) at Smith is about $500 more per month than at other local programs and $700-800 more than at Bowdoin and Williams. Similar differences persist at the toddler level. While Smith’s rates are more competitive at the preschool level ($1,228 per month), they are still about $250 higher per month than the average local program and $550-$650 higher than monthly rates for programs at Bowdoin and Williams. The committee collected more detailed program data for a subset of programs to try to determine why our charges were so much higher. While we were unable to reach definitive conclusions during the short period of our review, the data suggest that the heavy administrative structure, several highly paid teachers, several specialist positions, and reduced enrollment during the afternoons contributed to the higher cost structure for our programs.


The committee was struck by the high level of community enrollment in the center, with community children comprising approximately 60% of the preschool enrollment and 30% of the infant and toddler enrollment. These rates of non-Smith participation are more troubling when one considers that, despite our high tuition rates, we still subsidize community families. The committee agreed that this was not a reasonable use of the college’s resources and that community enrollment should be limited to either (a) backfilling excess capacity in rooms opened to meet Smith demand or (b) options in which we could recover at least the full costs.


The degree of enrollment flexibility offered by the current program at Smith leads to a significant decline in demand as the day progresses, particularly in the preschool program. While the three preschool programs tend to be relatively fully enrolled at 18 students each (54 total) during the morning session, enrollment demand falls after lunch to two rooms of 12 students (24 total) in the early afternoon and to only 5 students after 3:30 p.m. (Of course, part of the afternoon enrollment decline stems from one of the rooms being offered as half-day only.) While the center adjusts staffing levels somewhat by closing and combining rooms during the afternoon, there is still a significant financial cost (both real and opportunity) associated with this enrollment pattern.




Given current and projected demand levels from the Smith community and the high level of subsidized community participation, the committee recommends reducing the size of the infant and toddler program from four to three classrooms and the size of the preschool program from three to two classrooms. The table below outlines the specifics of this recommendation.

The recommendation to close two rooms and restrict enrollment in the two remaining preschool rooms stems from our review of the enrollment demand data for the last several years and the projected enrollments for 2004-05. Clearly, this would reduce enrollment significantly, from a maximum capacity of 88 children to 53 children. Over the past five years, Smith demand for preschool spaces has averaged 22.4 children, ranging from 17 to 27. Furthermore, those enrollment counts are headcount. Many of those children were seeking partial day or partial week enrollments. Over the same period, an average of 31 Smith children have enrolled in the infant and toddler programs annually, ranging from 30-33. About half of these enrollments are for the full-week, with the other half enrolling for either 3-4 days per week. These demand trends suggest that our proposed enrollment levels of 28 preschool spaces and 25 infant and toddler spaces would be sufficient to accommodate Smith demand in most years.

The committee recognizes that Smith demand may encounter several peak years over the next decade given the projected demographic shifts in the faculty as older faculty retire and are replaced by younger faculty. We recommend that preference be given to meeting infant and toddler-age demand since there are limited options in the community for these services. Should the Smith demand for care in these age groups exceed the capacity of the resized center then we would recommend converting one of the preschool rooms to full enrollment of 18 by adding appropriate staff and converting the other preschool room to accommodate the additional demand at the younger ages. This would potentially lead to excess demand at the preschool age, but we believe that other options are available in the community to handle this temporary overload. We suggest working closely with Sunnyside to secure preference for Smith-related families given our continuing subsidy for that program. The committee also encourages the program committee working on the new building for the center to pay particular attention to flexible and multi-purpose spaces to allow for enrollment volatility in the future.

This change in the size of the program would, of course, involve a substantial reduction in the availability of spaces for community members, particularly in the preschool program. While we cannot specify the drop-off in community participation since we do not yet know how Smith families will respond to other recommended changes concerning scheduling flexibility, we anticipate that community enrollment will decrease from a projected 38 children in next year’s preschool program (70% of total headcount) to approximately 15 to 20 (50%) once the changes are implemented. At the infant and toddler levels, we expect that community enrollment will decrease from 9-12 children (about 30% of total) to 2-3 children (less than 10%).

While this savings from closing two rooms is relatively small given the magnitude of the change, it makes other savings possible, such as the reduction in administration and potentially a smaller building which will reduce the indirect cost subsidy. We would probably also achieve savings in student labor and substitutes as well with the room closures.


In response to the sharp decline in afternoon enrollments in the preschool program, the committee recommends limiting the scheduling options to either school-day or full-day enrollment. In addition, families could choose among 2-, 3-, or 5-day enrollment options, with partial week enrollment contingent upon the Center’s being able to match up other partial week enrollments to make a full enrollment. Currently, we have only one Smith child signed up for half-day preschool for 2004-05 so view this change as impacting community enrollments almost exclusively. As such, we do not feel that the shift in policy would have negative impact on the affordability of the program for most currently enrolled Smith families.


In order to maximize our ability to handle peak-year enrollment demand from Smith families and recognizing that the program’s primary aim is to provide childcare for Smith-affiliated children, the committee recommends limiting our enrollment commitment to non-Smith children to one-year. That is, we can guarantee enrollment in the programs for only one year at a time for community children, allowing them to be bumped annually by Smith children as necessary to meet our commitment to that population. We would welcome flexibility around these limits, as necessary. For example, we hope priority would be given among community children to those approaching a natural juncture in the program, such as the transition between toddler and preschool care or those completing their final year of preschool.


The committee recommends adjusting the tuition subsidy for Smith children from 25% for the first child and 30% for subsequent children to a flat 20% for each child. This revised subsidy level is consistent with Internal Revenue Service tax guidelines for such benefits. On a related manner, the committee recognizes and is concerned by the relatively high tuitions for the programs, which will be accentuated by the reduced tuition subsidy levels. With that in mind, we ask the administration to consider implementing a sliding fee scale for the program to enhance affordability at the lower end of the pay scale. This may be a complicated discussion since the aim will necessarily be to increase affordability while not increasing demand for the programs to levels beyond the capacity limits. By contrast, faculty at Williams College receive only a 3-4% discount on the price of the college-affiliated childcare program. Of course, the price of those programs is about half of what Smith’s center charges, despite a lower operating budget subsidy allocated by Williams.

Some concern was expressed within the committee about aligning the timing of this particular recommendation with other recommended changes to the program, with the thought that we would be increasing the effective cost of the program for Smith employees, while at the same time reducing program options some families equate with quality, such as the specialists. Such a reduction in subsidy would also be problematic if it came at the time of continued substantial increases in the tuition fees. For that reason, the committee is in agreement that we should reduce the tuition subsidy, but would urge delaying its implementation until after these other recommendations have been implemented for 2005-06 and tying its implementation to reducing the costs of the program to Smith families to complement the reduced tuition discount. The reduction should also be examined in the context of a change to a sliding fee scale.


Given the proposed reduction in the number of classrooms and enrollment, the committee recommends a concomitant review and reduction in the administrative and specialist areas of the Center’s staffing.


Recognizing that the director of the Center has already made enrollment commitments for the 2004-05 academic year, the committee offers these recommendations for implementation effective 2005-06. We propose filling any current or future vacancies on a one-year limited term basis in order to avoid layoffs in implementing the recommendation to reduce the program by two rooms.

Total savings from these initiatives is estimated at $150,000.

Note: Since the committee’s deliberations of April and May and the issuance of its report in June, several developments have improved the budgetary picture for the CECE. As a result of enrollment patterns and staff turnover, the current operating budget calls for a lower-than-expected level of subsidy to the Center for 2004-05. The table below summarizes the changes in the various subsidies since the committee’s report.

  2004-05 Original   2004-05 Revised
Direct Operations Subsidy   $135,477   $61,711
Tuition Discount Subsidy   $142,431   $150,260
Indirect Costs Subsidy   $143,945   $143,945
Total Program Subsidy   $421,853   $355,916

Overview of Current
Early Childhood
Education Program
at Smith

Committee's Charge
and Findings

and Decisions

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