The University of Virginia's College at Wise. Courtesy of UVa Wise.

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise is preparing to launch a day care facility to serve its campus community. 

The Little Cavaliers Early Learning Center in Southwest Virginia will open this fall for children aged 6 weeks through 5 years. The center will be managed and staffed by the YWCA of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. 

The facility will offer a play-based curriculum designed by the University of Virginia, and it will also serve as a practicum lab for undergraduate students working on an early childhood endorsement in the teacher education program at UVa Wise. 

Though its primary audience is UVa Wise faculty, staff and students, Chancellor Donna Henry said in a statement that additional availability at the child care center will be open to the larger local community. As the center gains capacity, it hopes to provide more access for residents beyond the campus.

The creation of the child care center has been made possible by a $12 million allocation by the General Assembly for UVa Wise to add programs and increase enrollment.

The need for child care has been evident both on campus and in greater Southwest Virginia. 

A survey of UVa Wise faculty, staff and students indicated that finding child care is a struggle for many, Henry said. “Recruitment and retention of UVA Wise faculty and staff has been more difficult because of the scarcity of child care. In fact, faculty who have recently left the College cited the lack of child care in the area as a reason for seeking employment elsewhere.”

In Southwest Virginia, there are only enough child care slots for half of children under 5, according to data from the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation.

Nearly half of Virginians live in a child care desert, defined as an area where there are either no child care providers or so few that children far outnumber the enrollment slots available. The issue is more pronounced in suburban and rural areas.  

Nationally, about 1 in 4 college students is a parent. But in recent years, the number of on-campus child care options has declined, according to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 

In 2004, nearly 60% of all public colleges, including community colleges, had on-campus child care centers. In 2019, that figure had dropped to 45%. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the shortage of child care providers

The child care center opening at UVa Wise will be a rarity in the region, but it’s not the only example.

Others include Danville Community College, which has a child care center on campus that’s open to the public. Some students are eligible for a child care assistance grant worth up to 40% of the weekly rate for child care. The center serves children from 6 weeks up to 12 years old. 

And at Virginia Tech, the Little Hokie Hangout is a subsidized care program for graduate students’ families. Faculty and staff can also enroll their children, but they pay a higher rate for care.

Lisa Rowan is education reporter for Cardinal News. She can be reached at or 540-384-1313.