Community Colleges Have an Important Role to Play in Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce

You may have noticed recent media attention focused on the issue of whether early childhood educators need college degrees. Proponents argue that degrees will lead to greater respect and compensation for early childhood educators and ultimately better results for children. Opponents argue degree requirements are unlikely to increase wages and will hurt the diversity of the early childhood workforce.

But no one is discussing the type of programs early childhood educators are likely to attend — let alone considering the quality of these programs.

Here’s what we know: most early childhood educators looking to obtain a degree attend community college. There are many reasons for this. Community college is affordable and attractive to early childhood educators juggling work and family responsibilities. Beyond practical reasons, early childhood educators attend community college because they have few other choices — the majority of early childhood degree programs in the U.S. are located at two-year institutions.

My new report, “It Takes a Community: Leveraging Community College Capacity to Transform the Early Childhood Workforce,” examines the critical role community colleges play in preparing early childhood educators, details the various challenges these institutions face in helping early educators obtain degrees, and identifies best practices that can address these challenges.

In the last three years since the National Academy of Medicine published “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through 8: A Unifying Foundation,” there has been increased interest in how community colleges can contribute to increasing the number of lead teachers with bachelor’s degrees. It Takes a Community offers recommendations for community college leaders, early childhood advocates, and policymakers seeking to maximize the potential of community colleges to support professional development and credential attainment for early childhood educators.

The paper highlights that any realistic discussion of transforming the early childhood workforce must understand the key role community colleges play in shaping the early childhood workforce. Ultimately, policymakers interested in transforming the early childhood workforce must understand the community college landscape and adopt a clear vision for the role community colleges will play in preparing and developing early childhood workers.

(For more discussion of these issues, tune into a livestream on Monday, February 26th of a panel discussion hosted by New America. I’ll be joined by Shayna Cook of New America, Kathy Glazer of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, Sue Russell, of the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center, and Jeneen Interlandi of New York Times Magazine.)