Earlier this month, New America published a report summarizing the work of its Supporting Early Educator Degree Attainment Working Group. The Working Group was convened last fall with support from the Alliance for Early Success to explore the barriers institutions of higher education (IHEs) face in serving and preparing early educators and opportunities to address them. The report presents their findings and highlights 11 bright spots that already exist in IHEs around the country.
Although IHEs face numerous barriers to serving early educators, the Working Group was charged with narrowing its focus to no more than five, which the report summarizes and are listed below:
- Providing the social, academic, and financial supports that this population of students (e.g., low-income, diverse, first generation, part-time) needs to be successful. In addition to financial aid to cover the cost of attending an IHE, these supports might include counseling and advising services, tutoring, access to affordable child care, flexibility around class time and location to accommodate work and family responsibilities, and transfer agreements across institutions.
- Serving the particular needs of this linguistically diverse workforce. 27% of the early childhood education (ECE) workforce speaks a language other than English, which, while an asset for serving the growing number of dual language learners and their families, presents a barrier for IHEs who find it difficult to offer courses in another language.
- Supporting developmental education and general education requirements. Coursework required to complete general education requirements are expensive in that they don’t count toward the ECE degree and may be discouraging for students who have struggled with the subject in the past or haven’t previously studied it .
- Navigating quality and access challenges with clinical experiences. IHEs struggle to ensure all students are placed with skilled mentor teachers who can link students’ coursework to their clinical practice, in varied early learning environments, or in settings where they’re able to take on real responsibilities. It can also be difficult for students to take time away from their current jobs to participate in unpaid clinical experiences.
- Supporting faculty recruitment and development. IHE faculty members do not always have the knowledge, hands-on experience, or resources to support and develop each candidate, and there is a lack of diversity among faculty compared to the demographics of candidates and the children they serve.
Next, the report identifies promising practices already in place across the country to address these issues. One such approach is ECE apprenticeships, which provide on-the-job learning opportunities that feature a lead teacher to mentor and support candidates seeking a credential or degree.
The report concludes by exploring levers available to policymakers and stakeholders at the federal, state, and local levels; within IHEs; and within the ECE philanthropic community. The programs discussed in the report each pull on a combination of different levers to achieve their goals, but there are many additional levers available they do not utilize.
Levers identified at the federal level include increased funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, which funds campus-based child care programs for Pell-eligible students; creating a dedicated federal funding stream for ECE apprenticeships; and amending provisions in the Higher Education Act (HEA) concerning teacher quality programs (Title II) and federal student aid programs (Title IV) to better support the pipeline of high-quality early childhood educators. FFYF has consistently supported many of these ideas, which you can read more about in our recommendations for the reauthorization of the HEA.
These reforms are more essential than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the early learning sector, as well as the IHEs training the next generation of early educators. This report provides a timely examination of how innovation at all levels can meet the needs of this moment.
Read the Working Group’s full report here.