Average yearly tuition at a public university in this country is around $8,244. For that money, we expect college students to receive a quality education, preparing them for their next stage in life. So what return do we expect for the cost of child care, which nationwide can range from $4,600 to $20,000 for infants and $3,900 to $15,450 for a four-year old?
In Oklahoma, average in-state tuition is around $6,059 a year. When we contrast this information with the average cost of care for infants and four-year olds in Oklahoma, which is $7,288 and $5,397 respectively, it becomes clear many parents are investing as much or more in child care as they would in college tuition. In a perfect world, we would expect to get a comparable level of return in quality of child care as we do with higher education, that is, children who are better prepared for the next stage in their life. However, the truth is, for many families, even non-quality child care is unaffordable.
This is one of the issues brought to light in Child Care Aware for America’s recent report, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care. The 2011 data, the source for the comparisons above, is presented so readers can compare costs between states, but it also does a good job of breaking down the affordability of child care in relation to household incomes. For instance, the average cost for center-based infant care takes 51% of the income of a family of three living at the poverty line, and in high costs states such as Massachusetts it is 81%. Given these facts, it is no wonder a growing number of parents are pulling their children out of the more expensive licensed programs and putting them in informal day care settings. The idea of spending the majority of their paycheck on child care alone must leave families feeling there is no way to get ahead.
Obviously, a family’s state of residency has an enormous impact on both the cost and the quality of child care. The Sooner State can brag about having one of the better child care subsidy programs in the country. However, as CAP’s own Paul Shinn wrote in his January guest blog, “How we Can Move from Good Child Care to Quality Early Learning,” with minor changes Oklahoma could be even better. He offers a list of recommendations for advancing quality, which includes increasing subsidies to be competitive with the actual cost of quality child care.
Child Care Aware also includes a list of recommendations that both the state and federal government could adopt to increase affordability for quality child care. It includes a call for minimal quality standards to be defined, studies to evaluate the true cost of quality care, and higher standards for child care centers as well as assistance for more centers to become licensed.
By taking on quality and funding simultaneously, we could reshape child care so more children are prepared to succeed when they enter elementary school. It makes sense to expect a quality child care environment, especially when that care could cost more than a year’s tuition to our state’s top two public universities.
For anyone curious about the cost of a college education in Oklahoma, here is a recent list of in-state undergraduate tuition.