Utah State University Eastern will discontinue its preschool program at the end of the current semester mainly due to costs and student demand.
The program was originally established as a laboratory for instructing college students to be workers in child care. Despite a concerted effort by USU Eastern to promote its associate of applied science in child development degree, only one student actually completed the necessary requirements for the degree in the last 10 years, said Peter Iyere, USU Eastern vice chancellor for student success.
In addition, student enrollment in this degree program has been consistently low. Last year, for example, only three students took a total of six credits in college-level instruction based in the preschool.
“The fact that only one student has completed the program in 10 years coupled with the knowledge that student participation continues to be extremely low, led us to this difficult decision,” Iyere said. “The preschool program’s viability is primarily assessed by the number of college students who participate.”
Increased costs to run the program was also a major factor in the decision.
To maintain the preschool, the department requires USU Eastern to hire an additional Ph.D.-credentialed faculty member to supervise the preschool. As a result, the college must expend around $75,000 annually for a new faculty member’s salary, benefits and operating expenses. Student fees cannot begin to cover this additional expense, Iyere said.
Current workforce economic trends also appear to be dissuading students from taking this career path. The preschool was originally established to prepare college students for work in childcare and child development. At the time the preschool was proposed, Head Start was the largest employer of preschool workers in Utah.
In the years following, Head Start has increased the required credentials for preschool aids. In addition to its requisite for preschool aids to have at least a high school diploma, it began requiring at least a two-year college degree.
Iyere said the economic incentive is just not there for students to pursue a degree to be qualified to work for Head Start and other private and public agencies. The median salary in Utah for childcare workers is $9.20 per hour, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
“This economic reality is obviously a significant disincentive for students who may be interested in preschool work,” Iyere said. “Students have been very reluctant to invest two years’ time and tuition in preparation for a job whose median salary is very close to minimum wage. This economic environment probably accounts for the fact that only one student has graduated in 10 years in this program at USU Eastern and so few students are enrolling in individual child-care related courses today.”
USU Eastern Chancellor Joe Peterson said decisions to close programs are never simple or easy. He said this decision came only after many months of careful assessment and consideration, including the impact it would have on the community.
He said it is not the intent of the college to cause any hardships, but that changes in the marketplace are inevitable. Modifications, large and small, require the college to make course corrections on an ongoing basis in order to stay relevant and viable to its students and core mission.
“We are very aware of the need for quality preschool services in Price,” Peterson said. “Our hope is that closing our preschool will increase demand for private providers and spur growth in the private sector. In fact, one consideration for closing the preschool is that the college does not want to compete head-to-head with the private sector.”