With the rising cost of just about everything, parents can expect to pay more for child care. But not those connected with Florida Gulf Coast University.
FGCU’s Little Eagles Learning Center provides high-quality early care and educational experiences for children of students, employees and alumni at about 10% less than Southwest Florida’s average day care cost, an informal survey of area day care centers found. Besides the convenience for FGCU parents, Little Eagles also affords students working on degrees related to education and child care an on-campus chance for real-life experience related to their future careers.
“Like any parent, I was anxious about putting my then 7-month-old and 1-year-old into day care,” said Christina Kreiger, a parent to two Little Eagles and director of First Year Experience, Retention and Engagement Programs. “My husband and I toured every facility in the Estero/Bonita area, and none compared to the way we felt when we walked into Little Eagles.”
All 12 universities in the State University System have child care available on campus. According to Little Eagles director Elizabeth Elliott, Ph.D., FGCU’s center is the smallest in the system with a capacity of 58 children (eight infants, 12 toddlers, 22 preschoolers and 16 prekindergarten children). The school’s bylaws call for clients to be 50% students, 40% university employees and 10% alumni.
“Say you’re a senior and have a baby and they go into the infant room, they are allowed to stay as an alumni child until they finish our preschool classroom,” Elliott said. “We have very few alumni children because we only have 58 slots.”
There is a waitlist of about 100 children, primarily infants and toddlers. Student parents have first priority. A one-time wait-list fee of $15 is charged to the parent’s FGCU account.
“It sometimes can be a year before you are able to get your child in a classroom,” Elliott said. “Until our children either leave or finish the pre-K classroom, we don’t have any space for new children because we are at full capacity.”
Elliott has wanted to expand the center for several years, but that would require a location change or remodeling the current building — located next to Lucas Hall — to a two-story structure.
“When Little Eagles first started, our university was small,” Elliott said. “I have always dreamed about having a bigger center on campus.”
In each classroom, there are two teachers. The classrooms are also supported by interns from the College of Education, nursing students during their pediatric rotation, and physical and occupational therapy students who do a rotation in the summer.
“Even though my children are small, every activity that they do is tied to a lesson,” Kreiger said. “It’s a direct reflection of how hard the teachers work to truly make every minute of students’ time count in school.”
Little Eagles also hires student workers from around campus, primarily students on work study who have met minimum state child care requirements. They are allowed to work up to 19 hours a week.
Little Eagles receives limited funds from the university. Parent fees pay teachers’ salaries, yet the center still is able to charge significantly less than private day care options.
Pricing varies according to the child’s age and the parent’s role on campus. For an infant and toddler, students pay $160 a week, faculty $200 and alumni $224. Preschool rates are $147 a week for students, faculty $187 and alumni $210. Prekindergarten costs are $100 per week for students, faculty $120 and alumni $125.
“One of the greatest benefits of having Little Eagles right on campus is the convenience,” said Alexis Arnow, a parent to two Little Eagles and the coordinator of Planning and Institutional Performance for FGCU. “The experiences that my children and the other children at Little Eagles receive is unmatched.”
– Chloe Dumas recently graduated with a journalism degree and wrote this story while interning with University Marketing & Communications.