In a competitive global economy, obtaining some kind of post-secondary education—whether through an apprenticeship program, technical degree, or four-year college has become increasingly important to enabling individuals to attain economic self-sufficiency and support a family. High-quality early childhood programs support future educational attainment, and children who attend quality early childhood programs are more likely to go on to graduate from high school and obtain further education. In turn, higher education programs and policies can also help support state and local efforts to improve access to quality early care and education.

One vital component to a high-quality early childhood education are quality early childhood educators. By strengthening educator preparation, we can ensure that the early childhood workforce is equipped with the knowledge, skills and abilities required to deliver high-quality instruction to our youngest learners.

The Higher Education Act, first passed in 1965, is sweeping federal higher education legislation that helps students pay for college and encourages innovation, access, quality, and affordability in higher education. Over the past half-century, HEA has been reauthorized eight times, most recently in 2008. As state and local policymakers work to strengthen and professionalize the early childhood workforce, the federal policies and programs established in HEA—including teacher quality programs in HEA Title II and federal student aid programs authorized in Title IV—can play an important role in supporting these efforts.

In the 116th Congress, the House Education and Labor Committee held a series of bipartisan hearings focused on HEA reauthorization. H.R. 5363, the FUTURE Act, was enacted in December 2019, following adoption of a bipartisan Senate amendment to make permanent $255 million in annual funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions, simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for 20 million American families, and streamline income-driven repayment for nearly 8 million borrowers. As members of both parties and chambers continue to discuss HEA reauthorization in the 117th Congress, FFYF has recommended prioritizing three key areas—teacher preparation, student aid, and access—to strengthen the critical early childhood workforce and positively impact child outcomes.

Click here to learn more about the HEA and its relationship to ECE programs.

Throughout the pandemic, Congress has provided relief for institutions of higher education (IHEs) through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). The CARES Act, enacted in March 2020, included $14 billion; the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, enacted in December 2020, provided an additional $23 billion in HEERF funding; and the American Rescue Plan Act, enacted in March 2021, provided $39 billion.