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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Caleb Proctor,5, assembles a puzzle while people tour the Utah Valley University Wee Care Center in Orem on Friday, Sept. 27, 2013.

OREM — Jill Boswell enrolled at Utah Valley University in the spring of 2010 to study math education.

The mother of four hadn't been in a college class since the mid-1990s and was looking for the financial stability a degree could provide.

"I was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years," she said. "I hadn’t been in the workforce and needed to brush up my skills."

During her first semester, Boswell said she took night classes and arranged for baby sitters to watch her children, which was hard on her budget as a single mom.

In addition to the financial strains, she realizes that planning her schedule will become more difficult as she moves further along her degree track and fewer course sections are offered.

Boswell turned to the Wee Care Center at UVU, which offers child care services for students with children. Through the center, students are able to drop off their children for as little as a single class period at a cost well below market rates based on financial need.

On Friday, the center celebrated the grand opening of a new extension.

"Being able to have them on campus, being taken care of — they eat, they have lessons, they play with their friends," Boswell said. "It’s just a really secure feeling to know your kids are being taken care of and you can focus on your studies."

Utah has one of the largest gender gaps for degree earners in the country and one of the highest percentages of adults who failed to complete their college or university degree.

In Utah, 27 percent of adults — mostly women — fall into the "some college, no degree" category, compared with the national average of 20.6 percent, according to data from the Utah Women and Education Initiative.

"This expansion to the Wee Care Center shows UVU’s commitment to encourage higher education for all,” UVU President Matthew Holland said in a prepared statement. "The center provides a much-needed resource for many of our students, helping them finish a degree and do so more quickly, thus improving their lives and the lives of their families."

The Wee Care Center was founded in 2001, and a fundraising campaign to expand the center began in March 2012. With the latest expansion, the center's capacity has doubled to be able to serve 120 children at any given time in a new facility with classroom space, a kitchen and two playground areas.

Construction for the center's expansion was supported entirely by private funds, including a $2 million donation from the Barbara Barrington Jones Family Foundation, as well as more than 100 other contributions, according to university officials.

"This is our first building that has been completely created by donors in the community," said Michelle Taylor, UVU's vice president of student affairs. "It’s just incredible because many of these women would not be able to go back to school without child care."

Taylor said the Wee Care Center works around students' schedules to provide services to as many parents as possible. She said the center has typically had a waitlist too long to effectively manage, and while the new facility won't fully meet the demand on campus, it will allow for many more families to be served.

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"For many of the students, the child care center is a lifeline," Taylor said. "They absolutely would not be in school without it. We feel like this Wee Care Center has just been integral in increasing higher education opportunities for women."

Boswell agreed, saying she can't imagine how hard it would have been to pursue her education without the child care services.

"The Wee Care has been just instrumental in me being able to get through college and earn my degree," said Boswell, who is on track to graduate this spring. "Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am right now as a student."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood