Community colleges play a major role in educating early childhood educators but innovative strategies are needed to maximize that role.
More than 75 percent of the nation’s community colleges have an early childhood or family studies program, according to a new report from Bellwether Education Partners.
To ensure the nation has an adequate supply of qualified childcare workers, the report calls for community colleges to help students overcome obstacles related to low incomes and family responsibilities. It notes that childcare workers are disproportionately women of color. Approximately two-thirds have children in their homes, and at least 17 percent are single mothers. At least 18 percent are immigrants, and 54 percent of that group have limited English skills.
To accommodate those challenges, the report recommends such strategies as flexible scheduling, online programs, support for English language learners, new approaches to remedial education and financial assistance.
In one example of a college that has adopted an innovative strategy, Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) put in place student-centered scheduling to address the needs of students who are juggling work and family responsibilities. All classes are available one night week. While most classes start at 6 p.m., the program offers a morning section for childcare educators who work in the afternoon or evening. Some classes are also offered on Saturdays.
Another barrier cited in the report is the need to complete developmental education before enrolling in credit-bearing coursework. That can discourage early childhood educators who’ve been in the workforce for many years.
One effective solution is the Integrated Basic Skills Training (I-BEST) model, which combines adult basic education and career technical education through team-taught classes. At CNM, the I-BEST program pairs the first early childhood education course with English as a second language instruction.
Overcoming the language barrier
To address the needs of English language learners, De Anza College in California provides childhood education classes in Spanish, and CNM and Milwaukee Area Technical College offer the entire associate degree in early childhood education in Spanish.
The career pathways approach, which is aimed at ensuring students stay on track in a timely manner, is effective in early childhood education. Front Range Community College in Colorado, provides every student in the early childhood pathway with an advisor who specializes in that program.
Several institutions and states have adopted a cohort model, in which a small number of nontraditional, adult students begin a program of study together and advance through their coursework as a group, the report notes. That model creates a support network and a sense of belonging that helps students build confidence.
Skagit Valley College in Washington, for example, established a cohort program for teachers pursuing college coursework while working in early childhood programs run by the Washington State Migrant Council, Skagit-Islands Head Start and the Samish Indian Nation.
The report recommends that community colleges collect more complete data about their early childhood education students, create networks with other institutions to solve system-wide challenges and invest in programs for English language learners.
Among state-level recommendations, the report calls for financial incentives to support programs that train people for low-wage, but necessary jobs, such as childcare, and development of a more strategic approach to articulation, including a pathways approach that uses competencies to align courses.
Despite the growing advocacy for early childhood workers to have bachelor’s degrees – from the National Academy of Medicine and other groups – the report says, “the associate degree or Child Development Associate (CDA) credential will continue to be crucial.”
“In many ways,” the report states, “focusing on using community colleges to increase bachelor’s completion is in direct tension with the distinct needs other early childhood programs address.”