As Oregon and much of the country reels from a lack of child care workers, one Oregon college is trying to get more young people interested in the field.
Oregon State University-Cascades’ program would provide scholarships for 30 positions during the next two years. Recipients would have their first year of tuition paid in full, while also receiving paid work experience at child care centers in Central Oregon at a rate of $15-18 an hour.
Associate Vice President Kelly Sparks said the region has long lacked enough facilities for children needing care — that gap is around 3,000 open seats in Central Oregon. But building facilities only addresses part of the issue, she said.
“Even if we were to build all of those child care centers, we don’t have enough teachers,” Sparks said. “It is no longer considered a valued profession. It’s often considered babysitting.”
Funding for the scholarships as part of more than $7 million in American Rescue Plan funds allocated from Deschutes County. After two to three years, the program will have to find a new source of funding, Sparks said.
Much of Oregon continues to struggle with a severe shortage of openings at child care centers. A 2021 OSU study found every county in the state was considered a child care desert for children ages 2 and below.
Sparks said in Deschutes County, whose population has steadily risen in recent years, thousands of children don’t have access to child care centers.
Sparks pointed to better pay — along with a greater sense of respect — as ways to boost the number of workers for Central Oregon families.
“It is a field that I truly believe we can bring back … if we start talking about it as an esteemed profession as an educator, and we start honoring it with equal pay and benefits,” she said.