Prices Reported by Center-Based Early Care and Education Providers: Associations with Indicators of Quality

Publication Date: January 27, 2021
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  • Pages: 27
  • Published: 2021


Research Questions

  1. Are indicators of child care quality associated with higher child care prices, as reported by center-based providers?

Paying for child care can place a burden on households, especially those with low incomes. Currently, there is a dearth of knowledge regarding whether households obtain higher-quality child care when they pay higher prices for that care. To that end, this research brief uses data from center-based providers to examine whether centers that report higher prices for child care provide higher-quality care, as measured with a variety of indicators.


While much research exists on quality in early care and education (ECE), there is limited information about how the quality of care is related to the prices charged for child care. This report explores preliminary associations between indicators of the quality of care and the prices for care reported by providers in the United States for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Fewer than half of the quality indicators examined were associated with reported prices. Overall, prices for preschool care had more associations with quality indicators than prices for care of younger children:
    • Prices for preschool care were associated with seven of the 18 indicators of quality considered (39%).
    • Prices for toddler care were associated with three of the 18 indicators considered (17%).
    • Prices for infant care were associated with three of the 14 indicators[1] considered (21%).
  • Across the three age groups, classrooms with a highly educated staff member tended to be in centers that reported higher prices, relative to classrooms with staff members with less education.
  • Teachers with certifications or advanced degrees tended to work in centers with higher reported prices, compared to teachers with fewer qualifications. Specifically, preschool and infant teachers with a certification (i.e., a Child Development Associate [CDA] or state certification to teach young children, special education, or elementary school) tended to work in centers that reported higher prices, relative to teachers who lacked a certification. Toddler teachers with an education beyond an associate degree tended to work in centers with higher reported prices, compared to toddler teachers with less than an associate degree. 
  • Toddler and preschool teachers who had attended a professional development workshop in the past year tended to work in centers that reported higher prices, compared to toddler and preschool teachers who had not attended a workshop in the past year.
  • Infant and preschool teachers whose professional motivation revealed that they were teaching for career-related reasons tended to work in centers that reported higher prices, compared to infant and toddler teachers who endorsed, for example, teaching “for the paycheck” or “as a way to help other parents.”

[1] Four indicators of quality could not be considered when examining infant prices due to the small sample of infant classrooms.


This brief uses data from the 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE), an integrated set of nationally representative surveys of ECE providers and households with young children. The NSECE did not collect observational assessments of quality in child care settings. Instead, the NSECE asked ECE providers and workforce members to report on numerous quality indicators that research suggests contribute to high-quality care (Madill, Moodie, Zaslow, & Tout, 2015). Centers’ hourly rates were adjusted to account for regional differences in cost of living. After accounting for the number of children served by provider (i.e., total child enrollment), community urban density, community poverty density, ages served by the center, and the time period for which the provider originally reported the price prior to being converted to an hourly rate, we conducted separate regression analyses to examine whether each indicator of quality was significantly associated with the hourly reported price for care.


Few associations between reported prices and indicators of quality were found in this national dataset, especially for infant and toddler care. Decision makers, including parents and policymakers, need additional information about what drives the prices charged for child care and what those prices “buy” families in terms of the quality of care for their children. For example, child care providers might keep prices for infant and toddler care below cost by increasing the price of preschool care (Workman & Jessen-Howard, 2018). This information is important for consumer education efforts, as well as for guiding policymakers to know how to invest in programs to enhance the quality of ECE without passing along the price burden to families.


Early care and education
National Survey of Early Care and Education
Center-based provider:
A provider authorized to provide early care and education services to children birth to age 5 in a non-residential setting; may also collectively be referred to as “centers”
Reported prices:
The highest hourly price providers report charging parents and families for non-subsidized, full time child care and education for each age group; families with children in the center may pay a lower rate than the reported price due to subsidy, sibling discounts, scholarship opportunities, and/or other discounts
Non-zero price:
The tuition or fees that child care providers charge parents, reported as a value greater than $0
Total child enrollment:
The total number of children in all age groups served by a child care provider
Cost of care:
Expenses such as rent, salaries, and supplies that child care providers pay in order to provide care
Quality rating and improvement system