MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Community members, Northern Michigan University faculty, and their children gathered at the Academic Mall on Friday. The child care rally was hosted by NMU’s Early Childhood Education Child Care Task Force which is advocating for an Early Childhood Education Center on campus.

“Around November of 2021, a few of us were talking, myself and Dr. Rachel May in particular about how one of the best recruitment tools for Northern would be to provide child care on campus because that would probably attract a lot of parents who want to come back to school and retain the students who sometimes have to withdraw from school because of the child care crisis,” said Shilpa Jhobalia, co-chair of the Child Care Task Force. “Additionally, there is a huge child care crisis in our community where infant child care is practically nonexistent, toddler and preschool child care have one to two-year waitlists, and because of staffing shortages a lot of centers and providers have to turn families away or shut down completely.”

Great Start to Quality and the U.P. Child Care Task Force surveyed more than 1,300 parents last year and found that 71 percent of those in Marquette and Alger Counties were unable to find sufficient child care.
A survey that went out to NMU faculty and staff also showcased the need for child care in the area.

“It was found that currently, over 75 faculty and/or staff members are in need of child care services currently for over 100 children that they are the parents of,” said John Barch, a member of the Child Care Task Force.

As a parent and an assistant professor at Northern, Tim Cleary said he has been affected by the child care crisis.

“All the time, snow days. Constantly as a teacher at Northern it’s not the same as [Marquette Area Publics Schools] and that’s fine and I get why, but there are all kinds of different overlaps there that I need help on. I’m grateful for the help that I’ve gotten, but it’s not enough for me and I have it easier than a lot of people have. We heard that pretty clearly today,” said Cleary.

Back in February, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the MI Tri-Share Child Care pilot program to improve child care availability and affordability in the region. Marquette-Alger Educational Regional Service Agency, the facilitator hub of the program, partnered with Northern Michigan University, which agreed to sponsor 15 families in the first year. Jhobalia said Tri-Share is a good start to addressing the child care crisis, but more needs to be done by the university.

“They definitely stepped up with the Tri-Share, so we’re thrilled about that. I think we need the Board of Trustees to get on board to approve and support this program. So there are conversations happening now. Right now, the Department of Education just came out with a $100 million Child Care Expansion Grant.

“So we are strongly urging the administration and Board of Trustees to apply for this fund. We really believe that Northern would be awarded funding to build or renovate a building on campus to create this center. So there’s funding there, we would need Northern to provide ongoing overhead, and maintenance costs to run the program and to create the space on campus.”

Derek Hall, NMU’s Chief Marketing Officer, provided a statement on behalf of the Board of Trustees in response to today’s Child Care Rally:

“The Board of Trustees is happy to receive information from the NMU task force concerning the childcare needs of our students, faculty, staff, and the broader community. This is an important issue for the Board and the university’s administration and partnering with the task force and other community partners is critical. All avenues will be explored including looking at possible state and federal grants and partnerships. The work and efforts of the task force are greatly appreciated and work on the issue will continue.”

In this web-exclusive interview with Shilpa Jhobalia, co-chair of NMU’s Early Childhood Education Child Care Task Force, she explains the three things the task force wants the university to do when it comes to addressing the child care crisis on campus and within the community.